POLAND — The school budget for Poland, Mechanic Falls and Minot was overwhelmingly approved by voters Tuesday during a referendum in the three towns.
Voters in each town said yes to the budget with a collective vote of 251-117, said Regional School Unit Superintendent Dennis Duquette.
The $17.2 million budget passed in all three towns. In Mechanic Falls, the vote was 67-47. In Minot, 70-24; and in Poland, 114-46.
On the question of whether the budget was too high or too low, voters said it was too low by a thin margin: 163 said it was too low; 153 said it was too high.
The vote by towns was: Mechanic Falls, 56 said it was too high and 50 too low; Minot, 34 said it was too high, 41 too low; Poland, 63 too high, and 72 said too low.
By a vote of 230-to-129, voters favored retaining the option to hold a referendum on the school budget for another three years. The vote by towns was: Mechanic Falls, 73 favored retention and 36 didn’t; Minot voted for retention 53-38. Poland voted 104-55.
Duquette said he was pleased with the support. “It’s outstanding news, considering it was such a hard budget year. It was a tough budget year, but we did it,” Duquette said. “We’ll have a strong school district.”
Voter turnout was low, about 6 percent, based on the number of registered voters and the number of votes cast.
The new budget for the three towns will be $17.2 million, $1.1 million less than this year’s $18.3 million budget. Like the majority of towns and cities, less money for education was available from the state.
The school budget means taxes will go down in Poland and Mechanic Falls and up slightly in Minot. “Reductions were made across the board,” Duquette said. “A lot of hard decisions were made.”
Many of the decisions made this year will put the district in a stronger position for several years. Budget decisions were forward-thinking, Duquette said.
One example is that next year there will be a tri-town middle school where all Poland, Minot and Mechanic Falls students will attend seventh and eighth grades. Now, Minot and Mechanic Falls students attend grades K-8 in the towns where they live, and Poland students attend the middle school attached to the high school.
That change allows the district to retain courses and programs, and students will get more, Duquette said.
Other cuts meant 21 positions will be eliminated in the three towns. “It wasn’t just teachers. It’s every department,” Duquette. Some of the positions were cut through attrition.
“We’ve consolidated,” he said. “We’ve increased class sizes a little bit.” Average classes for elementary grades will be 18 students; and 22 at the middle school.
Freelance writer Winslow Durgin contributed to this report.