FARMINGTON — RSU 9 Superintendent Dr. Thomas Ward defended the work the RSU 9 Board of Directors had done on the school budget during a Farmington Rotary meeting on July 9.

“Our board has done an amazing job, not only with putting together the first budget but in going back and saying, ‘okay, what can we reduce?'” he said, referring to the first school budget proposal that voters defeated in June. “Anything that directly impacts the education of our children, they tried to keep in the budget.”

In the second budget proposal, which goes before voters at a school budget town meeting on July 21 at 7 p.m. at the Mt. Blue Campus Auditorium, voters will be faced with a budget with more than $200,000 in reductions from the previous budget proposal, said Ward. A referendum budget vote takes place in RSU 9 towns on July 28.

He pointed out that in 2013-14, the most current year available, RSU 9 spent an average of $8,751 per pupil. This, said Ward, was among the lowest in the state for a school district of its size.

“We don’t go overboard,” he emphasized.

Ward explained that under the Essential Programs and Services (EPS) funding model, the educational mil rate determines how much towns have to raise locally to get their state allocation.

“In this area, we’ve been pretty steady with property valuations,” he said. “That’s a key part for how much our towns have to raise.”

This year, the EPS educational mil rate increased from 8.1 to 8.41, said Ward. He noted that in order to reduce this rate, money must be put into general purpose aid for education and revenue sharing must be maintained for towns.

In this budget cycle, an additional 25 percent went into general purpose aid to lower the educational mil rate.

“Our legislators were very responsive. They got it,” said Ward.

The problem, he added, was that the legislature passed the budget so late in the session that the school district couldn’t figure out what the impact would be on the school budget.

Many of the increases in the school budget are related to special education, said Ward.

“Going into our budget process this fall, I told the staff the focus of our budget will be on special education,” said Ward. He stressed that it was the community’s responsibility to give special education students the help that they need.

He addressed the EPS model, which he said is not always perfect or equitable.

“It tends to penalize rural districts. But the concept behind the model is good,” said Ward.

He said that the model states that all students across Maine should be given the same opportunities to succeed in school.

“Our kids do great. We have kids across the country, across the world, doing great,” he said. “We work hard to meet the needs of every one of them. When we present a budget, we’re identifying their needs.”

Ward mentioned the school district’s day treatment programs, which were started so that children wouldn’t have to be sent out of RSU 9 to receive services.

“You try to budget for that, but it can change with the number of kids moving into the district,” he said. “By providing these programs, this is a conservative estimate, we’re saving the district about $500,000 a year, not to mention that it’s better for the children to stay in their own school.”

One Rotarian asked why an additional teacher was needed at Cascade Brook School.

“It is about teacher-pupil ratio, but it’s also about the makeup of those particular classes,” said Ward. “We had a class that we felt had greater needs than other classes.”

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