RSU 9 budget passes initial hurdle

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FARMINGTON — The $25.4 million budget for Regional School Unit 9 was approved by district voters in less than 30 minutes Tuesday night with the only comments from the audience being two requests for clarifications on the articles.

About 75 voters, many of whom were current and retired district employees, passed all 17 articles in a meeting moderated by attorney Ronald Aseltine of Wilton. Only two negative votes were cast during the entire meeting.

Under state law, all school systems are required to hold a budget meeting followed by a referendum to validate the vote. The referendum in RSU 9 is scheduled for Wednesday, June 1, when ballots will be cast in each of the district towns of Chesterville, Farmington, Industry, New Sharon, New Vineyard, Temple, Vienna, Weld and Wilton.

The budget does not include contracting out transportation and custodial services, two controversial, cost-saving suggestions made during community budget sessions when residents were asked for ideas on where money could be saved.

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The school board considered all of the suggestions and put the privatization proposals out to bid. At two public meetings on the issue, bus drivers, custodians and parents strongly opposed the idea because of the number of jobs that would be lost or made part-time without benefits. They also said it would mean the district would lose control of key departments with employees who work closely with children.

Directors opted not to vote on the proposals and did not include them in the budget. The options could have been reopened if the budget was cut on Tuesday, they said.

After the meeting, Superintendent Michael Cormier said he felt there was no opposition to the budget because of the groundwork the board and Budget Committee did seeking community input.

“The amount of time they put in and the public meetings they held were critical and people said how important it was to keep the bus drivers and custodians as district employees,” he said.

The Budget Committee cut about $600,000 from the initial draft they started working on in early spring. The cuts were made across the board in instruction, programs, athletics, operations and personnel.

The total budget is up by about 15 percent, or $3.4 million, over the current year because it includes the debt service for two new schools under construction that inflated the bottom line, Cormier has said. The state will pick up about 95 percent of that debt, but the line item had to be included in the total budget.

The district is also losing $416,000 in state aid over last year.

The school board, administrators and the Budget Committee were able to keep the increase to the operational budget below 1 percent, or less than $155,000. The budget will result in a $521,000 increase in tax assessments to local towns, which will be divided according to state property valuations.

The estimated impact would be about $40 on property valued at $100,000, Cormier has said.

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