BETHEL — SAD 44 voters will wait until November to decide on a change to the formula for sharing school costs among the district’s four towns: Bethel, Greenwood, Newry and Woodstock.
The school board voted 7-3 on Monday against placing the budget question on the ballot for June 12.
The seven directors who voted in favor of delaying the vote agreed that a change in the school funding formula is too important to be decided by the small percentage of residents who typically vote in June elections.
“In light of the statistics that have been presented to the board concerning the voter turnout between June elections and November elections, I cannot support at this time bringing this to the voters in June, so I will vote against the motion,” Greenwood Director Norman Milliard said.
District resident Michele Cole distributed statistics from the state of Maine website that showed that in the past several elections in SAD 44 towns, between two and four times as many people voted in November as in June.
“It’s hard for me to understand why we would vote on something so important any sooner than November,” said Cole, who pointed out that two prior votes to attempt to change the funding formula had taken place in November.
“If this is approved (in November), it still could happen next July,” she said.
Director Marcel Polak of Woodstock agreed, saying, “Regardless of whether it’s a June vote or a November vote, it would start July 1, 2019.”
Superintendent David Murphy told directors that they would be asked at an upcoming meeting to approve the article for a November 6 vote.
The plan is a variation on a proposal that was narrowly defeated in a referendum this past November. A citizen petition prompted the return of the issue this spring.
The new proposal calls for factoring the student population of each district town into the formula that assesses taxes on each town.
Because Newry has only about two dozen students, the formula change would shift some of that town’s taxes to the other three towns.
Currently, shares are based 100 percent on valuation (technically known as fiscal capacity), leaving Newry with the highest share, at about $3 million of the $8.4 million total. If approved, the formula change would be phased in over a nine-year period, with the final version of the formula remaining in place thereafter.
For the first two years of the phase-in, taxes would be calculated 95 percent on valuation and 5 percent on student population. For the next three years, they would be based 90 percent on valuation and 10 percent on population. For the next three years it would be 88/12 percent, and then finally shift to 85/15 percent for 2028 and beyond.
The figures themselves did not change from the November proposal, but the phase-in would be a year longer.
Enactment of the change would be contingent upon Newry residents voting to end the town’s process of withdrawing from the district.
District officials have said that a Newry withdrawal would have a severe financial impact on the other towns.
Annual budget meeting
The vote on the 2018-19 school budget will take place Wednesday, May 30, at 6:30 p.m. in the Helen C. Berry Auditorium at Telstar.
The school board, which approved the date Monday, is proposing a budget of $11.3 million, up about $330,000, or 3 percent, from last year.
The general fund budget translates to an estimated 2.2 percent overall increase in local school taxes, according to Murphy. The total local funding of $8.4 million is up by $181,678 from last year.
Reasons for the increases included the results of negotiations with all staff contracts, expansion of the pre-kindergarten program, the addition of an athletic trainer position, funding to help offset laptop insurance costs for families, increased special education costs and related transportation costs. The increases were partially offset, Murphy said, by other reductions in line items throughout the budget.
A validation referendum on the school budget will take place June 12.
Election of School Board members
Beginning with the June 12 election, voters in SAD 44 will follow a new procedure for the election of School Board members.
All district voters will be asked to elect School Board members from each of the district’s four towns. The change was the result of a reapportionment of the School Board, which was approved by the Commissioner of Education, according to SAD 44.
The change in the process added a third School Board member from Newry earlier this year and will eliminate the weighted voting method currently used by the Board effective July 1, 2018. Beginning at that time, all board members will have one vote.
The board will have 15 members with three representatives from Greenwood, Newry and Woodstock and six from Bethel.
The candidates, as they will appear on the June 12 ballot, are as follows, according to the sample ballot:
At-large Bethel residents, for three-year terms: Sarah E. Decato, Darcy P. Lambert, Daniel W. Whitney. (Vote for two.)
At-large Greenwood resident, for a three-year term: Martha F. McLean. (Vote for one.)
At-large Greenwood resident, for a one-year term: No candidate listed. (Vote for one write-in candidate.)
At-large Newry resident, for a three-year term: Kelly D. Scott. (Vote for one.)
At-large Woodstock resident, for a three-year term: Sheryl Morgan. (Vote for one.)
The Bethel Area Non-profit Collaborative will host a public forum with the School Board candidates from all district towns on Tuesday, May 29 from 6-7:30 p.m. at Crescent Park School.
Murphy announced the following resignations: Kathleen Chiasson, Crescent Park School third grade; Thomas Coolidge, Telstar Middle School music; Robert Dow, TMS science; Maggie Hutchinson, Telstar High School math (all effective June 30, 2018); and Amy Lynn Stevens, bus driver (effective May 4, 2018).
He also told the board that Adult Education Director Lois Ruff will retire on December 31, 2018.
He announced the following appointments: Tanya Nicols and Tiffany Jordan, Woodstock Elementary School softball coaches; Krystle Gould and Natasha Howard, THS JV softball coaches.