WALES — In a 7-2 vote, the Regional School Unit 4 board approved a budget Wednesday that would add five positions, fix fields, replace laptops and set the stage to consider closing the last two community elementary schools.

Superintendent Jim Hodgkin said the $18.82 million budget is 3.8 percent higher than this fiscal year.

“As an RSU, all of the budgets have been cut, cut, cut, cut, cut,” Hodgkin said Thursday. “This is the first time we’ve added to the budget.”

The proposal, which goes to Litchfield, Sabattus and Wales voters on June 3, includes:

* Adding one pre-kindergarten teacher and one teacher’s aide position to create a third pre-kindergarten classroom. Now, there are two prekindergarten classrooms and a waiting list.

* Adding a data specialist to analyze district test scores.

* Adding one fifth-grade teacher at Carrie Ricker School. When a fifth-grade teacher left two years ago, they didn’t fill the position, Hodgkin said, which increased class sizes for that grade.

* Taking a new, five-year loan at the annual cost of $109,000 to replace sections of the Sabattus Primary School and Oak Hill High School roofs, hire an architect and build a walk-out freezer at Oak Hill Middle School.

The middle school uses the Sabattus Primary School freezer two miles away; it doesn’t have its own, Hodgkin said.

The architect would study the possibility of building an addition somewhere within the district, potentially at Carrie Ricker School, that would house pre-kindergarten to second grade classes and close Libby Tozier and Sabattus Primary schools.

Both elementary schools are more than 60 years old and showing it, Hodgkin said.  “We think, educationally-speaking, one pre-K to 5 building is better.”

The idea is something the board will work on over the next year. With quick agreement and no delay, an addition would be three to four years off, he said, making it still necessary to fix Sabattus Primary School’s leaking roof.

It could become a mold and rot issue, Hodgkin said. “We really need to figure out how to stay in that building for at least that period of time.”

Last year, the district bought iPads for use in kindergarten, first- and second-grade classes. This year, if passed, technology funds will replace handed-down laptops for grades three to five with new Chromebooks. Hodgkin said he’d like the district to get on a schedule of replacing computers in three grades each year.

There’s also $35,000 included to fix fields at the middle school, high school and Carrie Ricker (the high school field hockey team uses the Carrie Ricker field).

“The football field in particular really got trashed badly last year in the playoff game,” Hodgkin said. 

One new position in the budget wouldn’t affect the district’s bottom line: A new math interventionist to help students struggling with math would be paid for with new federal grant funds, he said.

In all, the proposed 3.8 percent increase would mean a 52-cent increase to the Litchfield tax rate, 39 cents in Sabattus and 40 cents in Wales, according to a school board handout.

On a $200,000 home, that would equal an increase of $103.87 to a tax bill in Litchfield, $77.91 in Sabattus and $80.37 in Wales.

The district is down 35 staff positions and 138 students since forming as an RSU in 2009, which had one resident asking Wednesday night before the vote why the budget keeps going up, Hodgkin said. In addition to the positions added this year, insurance, salaries, fuel and special education have all been factors.

School board members Amedeo Lauria and Nancy Provost of Sabattus voted against the budget proposal.

Lauria, who also sits on Sabattus’ Budget Committee, said he hoped to see an increase closer to 3 percent instead of 3.8.

“We’ll let the people decide,” Lauria said. “I feel I need to advocate because I know it’s tough on the town. I sit on the budget side and I know we’ve had foreclosures in our town. I have people come up to me, (saying) ‘It’s getting tougher and tougher.'”

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