NEW VINEYARD – Agitated SAD 9 taxpayers gathered Thursday night to make a plan that tells district administrators that when it comes to the budget, enough is enough.

The group of 20 citizens, who call themselves the SAD 9 Budget Advisory Committee, formed last month after hearing that the proposed district budget for the 2003-04 academic year is up to just over $21,000, a 2.3 percent hike from last year.

By meeting every week at New Vineyard’s Smith Hall and attending school board meetings, the group is trying to make their collective voice heard so the budget will be, at least, flat-lined with last year’s figure of $20,765,361.

Frustrating the group is the fact that much of the budget is already set in stone due to ratified teacher salary and benefit union contracts.

Nevertheless, they are scrutinizing the budget with red pens and trying to find last minute cuts that help lighten the load on taxpayers’ checkbooks.

“We are not the only ones feeling the pinch,” said Fay Adams, a selectwoman from New Vineyard. “We have to tell them we can’t afford more than we’re are already paying. It’s hard enough. You want us to leave you alone,” she said, directing her statement to district administrators, none of whom were at the meeting, “then take the same amount of money from us you took last year. We have had it.”

Among the proposed places the committee suggested to trim fat is the transportation budget, the vocational school budget, the library budget and the money set aside to pay for negotiations costs.

It was also suggested that the assistant superintendent position, held by Paul Knowles, be cut and that those duties be turned over to the superintendent, Michael Cormier. “We know we have the support of the people. I’ve talked to teachers and support staff who feel the leadership staff are overpaid,” said Lauris Bailey of New Sharon.

Bailey has been fighting the budget process for years, he said. “I am not against education,” Bailey said. “I am against paying so much for it.”

Another idea was axing the adult education budget and making it a self-paid program and having people “pay as they go,” said Doug Fletcher of New Vineyard.

The consensus of the group is that taxpayers need to be more informed about the budget process, and need to take a stand for themselves, and their wallets, this June when the budget goes up for a vote.

Bailey said the best way to make an impact, would be to call the 15 members of the SAD 9 Board of Directors and voice concern. “We are in a Catch-22,” he said firmly. “You have to inspire the people. We don’t understand it maybe, but we know we can’t afford it. Make your representatives represent you. How does it happen that the school always gets more money when the people who are paying for the budget are becoming unemployed? The more their telephone rings off the hook, the more impact you have. Don’t give up.”

David Hargreaves, who spearheaded the committee, said there is no doubt that there are places to make serious cuts in the budget. He has suggestions, he said, and wants to make sure they are heard.

The most tangible way to show disapproval of the budget is to vote it down in June, the group decided. As Bailey said, “The vote is the only way to prove the will of the people.”

If taxpayers vote the budget down time after time, it will eventually have to be flat-lined with last year’s figure and that’s just what the advisory committee hopes to do.

They will continue to meet at 6 p.m. every Thursday evening at Smith Hall in New Vineyard and also plan to make a strong appearance next Monday night at the Industry Town Hall when representatives from SAD 9 administration come to town to meet with local taxpayers and discuss the budget.

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