POLAND — Round three of the attempt to set RSU 16's 2011-12 school budget will take place in September.
“It is going to take some discussion with both our administrators and the School Committee before we move forward with any additional changes to the 2011-12 school budget,” School Superintendent Dennis Duquette said.
Duquette, speaking at a special School Committee meeting Monday, explained that state statute allows the district to begin the new school year, which starts on July 1, with the $17,872,765 budget that voters approved at the June 13 district budget meeting — an amount that voters in all three towns, Mechanic Falls, Minot and Poland, failed to ratify in the June 21 referendum balloting.
School Committee member Norm Davis said that members of budget committees from the three towns had thus far felt excluded from the budget development process, and he urged Duquette to get them involved as a way to gain community support.
Several School Committee members and some residents voiced support for increasing the school budget.
Others urged deeper cuts.
“The mood out there is ugly. People want a flat budget. I am afraid it will be shot down again if you don't lower it,” resident George Sanborn said.
In the referendum vote of May 17 voters rejected a budget set at $18.1 million by a vote of 436-715.
With $270,000 cut from that budget, voters on June 21 rejected a $17.8 million budget by a vote of 494-616.
Something in the order of an additional $250,000 would have to be eliminated from the budget in order to have a so-called flat budget — one that would not cause an increase in property taxes.
Duquette noted that, since the formation of the new RSU, school costs for the three communities are way down. Three years ago the school budget for the three towns stood at $19.1 million.
Duquette expressed the fear that these cuts have jeopardized the school system by not having the resources to offer students what they need and deserve.
“We are now jeopardizing the educational quality of RSU 16. No matter how you look at it, we are offering less and less to our kids,” he said.
Duquette urged School Committee members and the public not only to support the budget as it stands but to consider adding back a few programs that have been cut back severely — notably the elementary school music program and world languages in grades seven to 12.
“I do not make this recommendation to antagonize anyone in our three towns but do so because it is the right thing to do, and these kids are counting on us to do the right thing,” he said.
Duquette said that as school superintendent he believed he had balanced the financial needs and the educational needs of the three towns and had utilized the resources wisely.
“But I can no longer pretend that I can continue to cut our school budget and offer a fair education to our kids,” he said.