NEWPORT, Maine — More than 50 people held picket signs in the cold wind and light snow on Wednesday afternoon to rally support for the third attempt to secure a loan for RSU 19.
The towns that represent RSU 19 — Corinna, Dixmont, Etna, Hartland, Newport, Palmyra, Plymouth and St. Albans — will vote Friday on a $2.8 million stabilization loan for the school district. Voters rejected two previous loan attempts. The rally was held at Sawyer’s Dairy Bar on the corner of U.S. Route 2, and routes 7, 11 and 100.
Because of serious errors in previous budgets, RSU 19 has a $3.6 million shortfall this school year. The district already has cut $1.6 million from the budget for this school year. RSU 19’s board of directors previously voted to ask residents for a $2.8 million stabilization loan. The district would use $1.5 million to repay its revenue anticipation loan to Androscoggin Bank, while the other $1.3 million would be used to pay bills.
“When people are voting, they really need to put the children first,” Rep. Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, said while holding a picket sign in support of the loan. “We recognize these are difficult economic times, but it’s not a time to be putting our children second or third on our list. We need to put them on the top of our list and go back to the drawing board on building a new budget for next year that’s responsible for the voters in the district.”
No one at the rally spoke against the loan. During a previous public meeting in January held at Nokomis Regional High School in Newport, Neal Strong of Plymouth was critical of the loan.
“We have a lot of folks in this audience who say, ‘It’s for the kids, it’s for the kids.’ Gosh, I’m getting tired of hearing that,” said Strong. “There comes a point when people in the community can’t afford any more. We’re at that point, folks. I appreciate [the district] trying to cut things down, but you have to do more.”
After a $3.6 million loan request was shot down by voters in November, the district cut $750,000 from the budget. Voters then denied a $2.9 million loan in January.
Superintendent Greg Potter previously said that if the loan isn’t approved a third time, a fourth loan attempt likely will not be coming. Instead, more drastic cuts and possibly a monthlong districtwide shutdown may happen.
“It’s great to see everybody out here to support this issue,” said Potter during the rally. “We need to get this done so we can move forward.”
Potter said the 10-year loan is the best solution in getting the financial crisis of the school district rectified. It also will help in creating a stable budget for next year.
“What we’ve been trying to show is that the stabilization loan will allow us to create a very responsible budget that will be acceptable to the communities here that will be very, very flat or even less to the communities,” said Potter.
Many at the rally were teachers with their children. Others were members of the community.
“I’m a supporter of the loan request. I feel we should follow through with the commitment we have made,” said Kate Rush of Newport, a 1996 graduate of Nokomis. “I do feel that it’s unfortunate that we’re in the position that we’re in. I don’t think anybody wants to be in a position where they can’t pay the debts they’ve incurred.”
RSU 19 Education Association President Wayne Prescott said the school district is a reflection of the towns.
“It’s important to invest into this because you’re investing into your communities,” he said. “Strong communities are strong schools. Strong schools are strong communities.”
Prescott said he was cognizant of people’s hesitance to vote for a loan that will increase their taxes.
“Being a property taxpayer in the district, I have the same fear,” said Prescott. “I don’t want my property taxes to go up. I don’t want anybody’s taxes to go up. However, this loan is the best solution for the problem at hand. In theory, it’s better to pay over 10 years in increases in taxes as opposed to pay it all at once.”
Potter and members of the school board have been visiting towns in the district to discuss the loan, its impact on property taxes and next year’s budget.
How the $2.8 million loan will affect taxpayers in each town has been posted on RSU 19’s website.
Based on a 3.7 percent rate loan over 10 years, the equivalent mill rate impact on Newport taxpayers would be $0.43. For Corinna, it would be $0.44, Dixmont $0.18, Etna $0.20, Hartland $0.50, Palmyra $0.46, Plymouth $0.38 and St. Albans $0.63.
RSU 19 Business Manager Jerry Nault said at a meeting in Newport last month that a property in Newport valued at $50,000 last year will likely see a tax increase of $21.59 per year, or $1.80 per month if the loan is approved. For a property valued at $100,000, it would be $43.18 per year, or $2.70 per month.