RSU 9 sends fourth proposed budget to voters

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Parents, staff and former students stepped forward at the Regional School Unit 9 budget workshop Tuesday in Farmington to praise and support the work done in the district and the influence it has had on them individually, their families or students.

FARMINGTON — Regional School Unit 9 directors Tuesday approved a $33.63 million budget to go to voters Oct. 11, followed by an Oct. 24 validation referendum.

It is the fourth attempt to get a budget for 2017-18. 

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The budget is the same as one that went to voters on Sept. 5. The majority of voters reduced it by nearly $1 million. The voter-proposed $32.65 million budget failed 1,608 to 2,893 on Sept. 12.  

On Tuesday, directors added $100,000 to special education for two new students who need specialized services outside of the district. The proposed special education budget stands at $5.28 million.

The district has added 75 new students since April 2016 and 12 of them need special services.

The board also added $26,000 to an article that contains health services for a half-time nurse. This provides a full-time nursing position at Mallett School in Farmington for a student who requires consistent medical attention and for the rest of the students, and a half-time nursing position at Cascade Brook School in Farmington. Previously one position was shared between the schools.

To offset the $126,000 budget increase the majority of the board cut $78,000 from its districtwide $145,000 contingency fund and $48,000 from transportation and facilities maintenance budgets. The district received a lower rate for heating fuel and diesel.  

The proposed budget is $887,984, or 2.71 percent, more than last year.

Prior to the vote, Christine Shea, director of special education for the past five years, said the law requires the district to provide services to students with disabilities. Since 2005, 16 cases have been brought against the district for not providing adequate services to students. Only one has been brought against the district in the last five years because the district has responded to the needs, she said.

“Special education is expensive,” she said. “Kids with disabilities require specialists and more time and attention than typically developing students.”

Seventy of the 389 special education students are high-needs students requiring more support at a much higher expense, Shea said.

RSU 9 spends 12.8 percent of its budget on special education while the state average is 16 percent, she said.  

During budget deliberations, directors brought up several points that included:

• Voters did not have a chance to vote on the proposed $33.63 million budget before it was cut by nearly a $1 million.

• The budget that went to voters Sept. 5 was a compromise. Directors had cut $292,414 from the $33.9 million budget that failed in August.

• The board is returning $729,000 in additional state aid to the towns for an overall $267,444 (2.06 percent) decrease in tax assessments.  

• Concerns were voiced on cutting contingency but it looked like one of the only areas to cut.

• Director Ryan Morgan of Farmington opposed cutting contingency, saying the district is at risk of having to freeze the budget again if more special services are needed. “I am little despondent that we always cut the contingencies every year,” which ends up affecting students and services, he said. When “do we stop doing that? When is there a chance for all students to be treated the same?” he asked. 

• Director Angie LeClair of Wilton pointed out that local taxpayers are responsible for about $12 million of the budget. She also said districct administrators are not overpaid. “We are doing a really good job here,” she said.

• The starting point for next year’s budget is nearly $1 million more than this year. State aid helped this year but may not be available next year, Morgan said.

• The intention is to keep the budget process transparent.

• The district received more special education reimbursement this year.

Superintendent Tom Ward has frozen the budgets for the past three years early in the school year because of unexpected costs for special services. Spending and hiring were already frozen this month pending a vote on a budget.

dperry@sunmediagroup.net

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