RSU 16 considers options

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POLAND — More than 250 Mechanic Falls, Minot and Poland residents listened Monday night as Regional School Unit 16 Superintendent Dennis Duquette explained what effects different budget scenarios will have on their property taxes.

If the School Committee members make no program changes and no budget cuts next year, taxes on a $100,000 house will increase $185 in Mechanic Falls, $204 in Minot and $124 in Poland. 

If the School Committee recommends having two middle schools, one at Elm Street School in Mechanic Falls for Mechanic Falls and Minot students, and the current Whittier Middle School for Poland students only, taxes will increase by $66 in Mechanic Falls, $77 in Minot and $21 in Poland on a $100,000 house.

If the School Committee votes to educate middle school students from all three towns at the Whittier Middle School, taxes for a $100,000 home in Mechanic Falls will increase by $54, in Minot by $65 and in Poland by $16. 

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In answer to comments that taxes still increase under both of the options being consideration by the middle school exploration committee, Colleen Quint, spokesperson for the exploration committee, defended its action.

Quint noted that these options save the towns between $1 million and $1.2 million but could not entirely fill the funding gap.  

“We think we’ve cut as much as we possibly can,” she said.

Poland resident George Sanborn questioned whether a wage freeze was under consideration.

“Staff is well aware of the situation and they’ve agreed to talk,” Duquette said.

Duquette noted that he has met with union representatives and they’ll be bringing the question of a wage freeze to their membership Thursday.

Duquette estimated that a wage freeze could save between $370,000 and $420,000.

Residents spoke in defense of programs that will either be eliminated or reduced under either of the middle school plans.

Attention focused on the K-6 music program, arts, world languages, health and physical education, as well as athletics.

Many who spoke were willing to pay more in property taxes if some of these programs could be reinstated.

Duquette estimated that it would cost an additional $136,000 to reinstate the K-6 music program. 

Several parents expressed fear that the speed at which the School Committee was proceeding could harm their children’s education.

Several parents objected to the creation of a three-town middle school.

Mechanic Falls parent Mitzi McKellick expressed reservations for the move to the Poland school, describing it as one in which the School Committee would “slap on modulars and see what happens.”

Minot residents and Mechanic Falls teacher Laurie Callahan urged people in attendance to call their state representatives in Augusta. 

“The state, by law, is supposed to be funding schools at 55 percent. Right now they’re funded at 43 percent. People in Augusta aren’t hearing us,” Callahan said.

Noting that the School Committee was having a difficult time trying to plug a $1.8 million funding gap, several people wondered what would happen next year when the district is looking at an additional shortfall of $1.6 million. 

The middle school exploration committee will present its final recommendations to the School Committee March 29.

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