School budget voted postponed to Thursday

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 POLAND — The RSU 16 School Committee tabled its vote on the budget for the 2010-11 school year Monday night.

The committee agreed to meet Thursday, April 15, at 6:30 p.m. to approve a budget to go before voters.

The $17.2 million budget that Superintendent Dennis Duquette put on the table is $1.1 million less than this year and keeps the amount of money coming from local property taxes at current levels.

Debate over the adult education budget bogged down, causing the motion to defer action until Thursday.

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Several committee members wanted to add anywhere from $17,000 to $40,000 to adult education director Nancy Watson’s proposed budget.

Noting that Watson was proposing to cut $10,000 from her salary, School Committee member Melissa Hodgkin said just the thought of it “makes me angry.”

“The program is going up in student enrollment. It doesn’t make sense to be cutting its budget,” Hodgkin said.

Watson said the 232 participants is the highest enrollment she has seen in her 20 years, but funding levels as they are, she was compelled to come in with a reduced budget.

School Committee member Carl Beckett first suggested putting $40,000 back into the budget, but after the question of where it might come from could not be answered, he changed his appeal and asked support to put $17,000 back into the adult ed budget.

“We need that program more than ever,” Beckett said.

Duquette said he would rework his recommendation to accommodate the $17,000.

Duquette noted that officials from Mechanic Falls, Minot and Poland made it clear at a recent meeting that they didn’t want to see any property tax increases.

The $17.2 million budget accomplishes that and, Duquette noted, it does so with the loss of 24 positions. It also means a major restructuring, sending seventh- and eighth-graders from Mechanic Falls and Minot to Poland’s Whittier School.

The School Committee also heard from a number of people supporting music and art programs. The proposed budget would severely damage both.

Committe member Mary Ella Jones noted that the proposed budget leaves out French classes at the high school and eliminates foreign languages altogether at the middle school.

Duquette said as difficult as this is, next year could present even greater challenges and he didn’t want to make promises that couldn’t be kept.

“I’m just making the recommendations. If the School Committe wants more, that’s OK,” Duquette said.

The School Committe also approved an athletic activity fee proposal, which athletic director Don King estimated should generate up to about $10,000.

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