WALES — RSU 4 voters will go to the polls Tuesday for a referendum on a school budget with a 2.16 percent increase and no privatized busing next year.

About 80 people gathered Wednesday night at Oak Hill High School to walk through the budget details and to vote department by department before sending it to referendum, Superintendent Jim Hodgkin said Thursday.

When school board directors originally set the $17.6 million budget in mid-May, they anticipated the district would privatize bus services, lay off 22 drivers and see $178,000 in savings from the move.

In late May, “very quickly and without much notice, the board reversed its position on the (lone busing) bid,” Hodgkin said.

“There were enough questions about the whole process,” he said. How would maintenance work? Were the number of miles in the bid correct? “We need to get people to agree on what the savings will be, get everyone on the same pages.”

The board could revisit the issue, but not in time for the coming school year.

With privatized busing nixed, Hodgkin said room had to be found in the proposed budget to make up the projected savings from busing. That’s been found so far in re-bidding one smaller special transportation contract and laying off three bus drivers, and in a handful of unexpected retirements and resignations. In hiring less-senior people to replace those staffers, the district will save about $7,000 for each position, Hodgkin said.

The drivers’ positions save about $30,000 each.

“They really looked at the routes and whether we needed all the drivers,” he said. “The drivers themselves recommended they cut three people.”

On Wednesday night, residents of Regional School Unit 4 (comprising Sabattus, Wales and Litchfield) voted to pass the budget as proposed, voting down two amendments that would have cut funding in transportation and adult education.

“I’m very happy with last night,” Hodgkin said.

One more vote awaits before the budget is approved. Referendum voting will take place Tuesday at the town offices in Sabattus and Wales and at the Sportsmen’s Club in Litchfield. The district requires an overall majority of votes to pass, but not a majority in each town.

In the proposal, Litchfield’s share of the budget would be $3 million, a 7.44 percent increase over the current year. Sabattus’ share would be $2.7 million, a 3.58 percent increase over the current year. Wales’ share would be $1 million, a 5.19 percent increase over the current year, according to information from the school department. The remainder of the budget is funded through state aid.

For owners of a $150,000 property, the new budget would mean an increase of about $125 on tax bills in Litchfield; $73 in Sabattus, and $93 in Wales. The split among the towns has to do with state valuation, not the number of students from each community, Business Manager Scott Eldridge said.

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Proposed RSU 4 budget

Approximate tax increase on $150,000 property

Litchfield: $125

Sabattus: $73

Wales: $93

Source: Regional School Unit 4

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