GRAY – An SAD 15 school board workshop Wednesday ended with a split straw poll of the 11 members who next week are expected to adopt the district’s 2003-04 budget. The budget will pave the way for a districtwide referendum in June.

The board will act on a final budget of $16,307,197, which drew divided 6-5 support from board members in the straw poll.

The newest of several budget proposals since March reflects a $207,000 savings in health insurance premiums and $100,000 from trimming a capital improvement plan. And, the plan returns two primary teachers and three education technicians to the elementary schools at a cost of $141,000.

Chairman of the board Sarah McCleary said after the meeting that she expects the board to support the higher numbers when it meets at 7 p.m. May 7 at Stimson Hall in Gray.

Several weeks ago the board settled on a compromise budget from the initial proposal in early March of $16,201,270, which had been presented by Superintendent Michael Wood and that was roughly $26,000 lower than the 2002-03 budget. Wood’s plan called for closing an elementary school and consolidating district elementary students to Dunn and Memorial Elementary schools in New Gloucester. In addition, 33.5 teaching and support staff positions and one principal would be eliminated. And, Pennell School, which houses the special education director and adult education programs, would be closed and consolidated to Russell School with other district offices.

However, a compromise plan was reached after a community outcry against closing the Russell School in Gray. Now Russell and Memorial School will serve students in grades kindergarten through two and Dunn School will house all Gray and New Gloucester students in grades three to five.

Savings in lowering a capital improvement plan for the district property to $381,000 is down $100,000 from an original proposal.

More savings than anticipated came with a recent notification from Blue Cross/Blue Shield that premiums will rise 9.9 percent but there will be cuts in coverage.

If the board adopts the newest budget figure, it reflects a half percent increase in taxes in Gray and a 3.39 percent increase in New Gloucester.

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