FARMINGTON — For the third year in a row, the Regional School Unit 9 budget has been frozen because of unbudgeted expenses connected to students moving into the district who require special services.

Superintendent Tom Ward said Tuesday that he froze the budget in early December 2016. The unbudgeted expense is $300,000. It is the earliest the budget has been frozen by Ward.

Teachers still can request supplies to teach the curriculum, Ward told the school board.

Directors began their review of a preliminary $33.56 million budget for 2017-18. It is 2.65 percent ($818,519) increase over the current budget.

Administrators reviewed the items they have control over in the budget, which wasn’t much.

The rest are fixed costs connected to employees’ benefits and wages.

“Seventy-five percent of the budget is people,” Ward said.

During his four years as superintendent, Ward said, school officials have been trying to make slow, incremental wage increases to try to get competitive wages for employees.

“We’re not trying to pay top dollar; we just want to treat them fairly,” he said.

Ward said he has spoken to legislators and the blue ribbon Commission to Reform Public Education Funding and Improve Student Performance in Maine and told members that a circuit breaker is needed to help offset the costs of special education.

He has also told them that the state must fund education at 55 percent if it wants its essential programs and services funding model to work.

Ward said the district started billing MaineCare for reimbursements in this year’s budget for services provided in the district’s day treatment program for special-needs children. In the current budget, $350,000 was factored in as revenue and it is anticipated the district will surpass that amount. The money will be used to offset the cost of special education.

Ward said the district is looking into billing for students in its three life skills programs.

There will also be discussion on a proposal to go out to bond to fund paving needs, roof replacements and other capital improvement projects.

We are at the point we cannot keep cutting,” he said.

If the board decided to move forward, it would not affect the 2017-18 budget but would affect the 2018-19 budget.

Ward is in the process of setting up meetings with selectmen in the district’s 10 towns to discuss the budget. The board will also hold informational meetings prior to holding budget votes in May.

The board will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 28, at the Forum at Mt. Blue Campus. Budget talks will be part of every board meeting in the coming months.

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Members of the Mt. Blue Campus robotics team gave Regional School Unit 9 directors a demonstration of their new robot for the FIRST Robotics Competition. Team members Thomas Marshall, left, and Ben Andrews, seated right, gave an overview and showed directors how it worked. The team will compete in early March in Massachusetts and in late March and early April in Lewiston. 

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