SALEM TOWNSHIP – After two hours of discussion and decisions at SAD 58’s budget meeting Thursday night, voters approved a $9.5 million spending plan for 2012-13.

Comments from the 122 voters reflected concerns about rising property taxes in Western Maine. Although the budget is approximately the same as what the district spent in 2007, many revenue sources have disappeared or have diminished, Superintendent Brenda Stevens said. Conversely, the yearly increase in property values has shifted that increased obligation from the state to the local property owners.

Phillips Selectman Lynn White began the meeting at Mt. Abram High School by suggesting directors reduce the $3.4 million for teaching salaries by $120,000.

“We’re experiencing a lower student census,” White said. “I don’t see any movement to reduce our manpower.”

White suggested since the state’s Essential Programs and Services funding would not pay for the district’s costs over their funding formula, taxpayers should not have to make up the difference.

Strong resident Scott Dyar agreed with White, noting that the board of directors had been asked year after year to reduce the number of teachers and cut costs, but each year, the board had continued “to kick the can down the road.” The amendment was defeated by written ballot.

School board directors have approved taking $700,000 from surplus, which is the largest amount allocated in the past six years. Close to half that amount came from state reimbursement for past school bus purchases. Although directors have attempted to keep tax increases as low as possible, the five towns in the district may see a tax rate increase.

“We’re way over on health people in the district,” said Rupert Pratt, Strong selectman. “Other districts don’t have as many nurses as we do.”

Retired Mt. Abram High School teacher Steve Yates, also an emergency medical technician, disagreed.

“There were many days when I was pulled out of my classroom, because there was no nurse available,” he said.

By written ballot, voters also decided against spending less than the $724,014 proposed for student and staff support. The staff spends many, many hours completing reports required to meet state mandates and Superintendent Brenda Stevens described the amount of paperwork required by the state as “unbelievable.”

Kingfield Selectman Merv Wilson told the school board he was frustrated with the slow reaction to requests for changes in the way the district decides to spend taxpayers’ money.

“We haven’t really done anything for five years,” Wilson said. “We need you to do something.”

Stratton resident Alan Burnell asked the audience to go home, look in the mirror, and ask themselves if they were doing something about taxes in general, including what is spent in their own towns.

“Do we want to balance our town budgets on the backs of the 800 kids who go to these schools?” Burnell asked.

The SAD 58 budget referendum will be held May 22 at the following times and locations:

Avon Municipal Building, 1116 Rangeley Road, 2 -6 p. m.

Eustis Town Office, 88 Main St.,  2-7 p. m.

Kingfield, Webster Hall, 38 School St., 2-7 p. m.

Strong, Forster Memorial Building, 14 South Main St., 2-6 p. m.

Phillips Town Office, 15 Russell St., 2–6 p. m.

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