LINCOLN, Maine — RSU 67’s fifth attempt at passing a 2012-13 budget for its three towns holds the line on costs and services but a fifth failure to secure voters’ approval could threaten that, Superintendent Denise Hamlin says.
At a meeting earlier this week, the regional school unit’s board of directors tentatively set a $12.1 million budget virtually unchanged from its previous attempt. The board will hold its budget vote on Dec. 11 and voters of Chester, Lincoln and Mattawamkeag will vote on it Jan. 10, Hamlin said.
The failures in securing a budget, which usually passes by the start of the fiscal year on July 1, haven’t yet threatened to leave the school district short of funding, Hamlin said.
“If this round [of votes] doesn’t come to a positive situation or vote, we would have to be looking at significant cuts to protect ourselves from any kind of curtailments or federal fund reductions,” Hamlin said. “Our administrative team is already working on identifying where those cuts would come from in the event cuts are necessary.”
In the largest turnout of the four elections, voters rejected the budget by a combined vote of 1,886 to 997 in unofficial totals on Nov. 6. Lincoln and Chester voted against the budget. Mattawamkeag passed it, 181-180. Chester and Lincoln voters rejected reopening Carl Troutt School of Mattawamkeag, which that town’s voters supported.
The Maine Department of Education does not track budget rejections in school districts, but four is a high number, a department spokesman said.
Hamlin, who has defended the budget as achieving goals set for her by the board, wanted to hold a fifth election on Dec. 18, but Lincoln interim Town Manager William Lawrence balked, Treasurer Gilberte Mayo has said.
Mayo said that would be a busy time for town workers, who are collecting property taxes, among other things. Hamlin said she was unaware that the date was problematic. The school board’s attorney advised that the election must be held by about that time to conform to state law, but Mayo disagreed.
Some critics say the four budget rejections stem from a widespread distrust of the leadership provided by the board and Hamlin. Some board members and Hamlin have said that the budget holds spending at 2009 levels after a half-dozen years in which budgets about doubled and that Hamlin’s leadership comes in response to goals the board set.
The board will likely discuss the budget situation when it meets on Nov. 28, Hamlin said.