September 22, 2019
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Literacy program in Belfast area saved from chopping block

Abigail Curtis | BDN
Abigail Curtis | BDN
Dana Linscott, 63, of Belfast decided three years ago he wanted to change his life and get his high school equivalency diploma. He came to the Regional School Unit 71 board meeting on Monday night to speak in favor of funding the Literacy Volunteers of Waldo County.

BELFAST, Maine — Three years ago, Dana Linscott of Belfast set a goal for himself: to go back to school and get his high school equivalency diploma.

Linscott, 63, said that back then, he was illiterate and could not fill out a job application by himself. Now, that has changed — and he gives a lot of the credit to the Literacy Volunteers of Waldo County. That’s why it was important to Linscott to come to the Regional School Unit 71 board of directors meeting Monday night and plead for the school district to continue to fund the program. Last week, the board had made a preliminary decision to cut $19,000 from the program in the 2016-2017 school budget, which would have effectively defunded it entirely.

“Literacy Volunteers is a very good program,” Linscott, who is due to receive his diploma in May, told the board of directors. “You need it to stay.”

By the end of the meeting, enough board members agreed with him that funding was reinstated for the time being. After hearing from many other supporters of the nonprofit program, directors voted 5-4 to set the budget for Belfast Adult Education at $230,000, which includes funding to keep the Literacy Volunteers of Waldo County program going for another year.

“The strong support of our audience persuades me to add this funding back,” RSU 71 Director Caitlin Hills said before the vote. “I wish, and I hope, this program will seek alternate forms of funding. I’m not sure how long this goodwill will last, or how many people support my decision.”

Two years ago, Literacy Volunteers of Waldo County became a program within Belfast Adult Education. Darrell Gilman, Belfast Adult Education director, said that when Literacy Volunteers changed its affiliation, it had no “matches,” or clients matched with volunteer tutors. Two years later, there are 15 matches.

“To somebody who doesn’t know anything about the program, that might not sound like a lot,” he said Tuesday. “But that’s a really strong basis on which to build.”

After the decision to reinstate funding, Denise Pendleton, coordinator for the Literacy Volunteers of Waldo County, said she was “really pleased to hear board members speak up for literacy and say it’s important to them.”

But RSU 71 board chairman David Crabiel, who voted against the reinstatement, said that while Literacy Volunteers is a good program, the board members still need to keep a close eye on the bottom line.

“It still gets added to the tax burden,” he said of the funding for adult education. “The money has to come from somewhere.”

At the meeting, the directors approved the proposed $25.96 million school budget, larger than the $25.2 million budget that residents ratified last summer. The proposed budget still may be tweaked at the districtwide budget hearing, the date of which has not yet been set, Crabiel said.

Mary Mortier, a Belfast city councilor, said at the meeting that she has been hearing from taxpayers who don’t want their property taxes to keep increasing in order to pay for schools.

“I’m not here to speak against students, but enough is enough,” she told the directors. “There have to be places you can look at with a sharper pencil.”

The school district includes the communities of Belfast, Belmont, Morrill, Searsmont and Swanville.


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