DIXFIELD — Directors of Regional School Unit 56 on Tuesday approved a budget of $12.95 million to present to taxpayers later this month.

The budget represents an average increase of 19.22 percent in assessments to the towns of Canton, Carthage, Dixfield and Peru.

In June, voters rejected a $13.2 million budget, which was an average increase of more than 20 percent in assessments. 

An informational meeting for the 2017-18 spending plan will be held July 26 at Dirigo High School in Dixfield.

A meeting and initial vote on the budget is set for July 27 at the school. A vote to validate the budget is set for Aug. 8 at polling stations in each town.

Cuts in curriculum development, computer upgrades, accounts payable, an administrative assistant to the superintendent, stipend pay freezes and adjustments, and reductions in overtime by transportation and maintenance staff were included in the board’s decisions to lower the budget.

Dirigo High School will also have one less teacher, and after-school activity bus runs at Dirigo elementary and middle schools will have fewer school bus runs. The high school and middle school will also forego repairs to equipment, and supplies and furniture for the schools won’t be purchased.

Another savings will be the transition of the school’s student information tracking system, PowerSchool, with its licensing to come from state money instead of local money.

“My fear is that the towns will say we didn’t really make an effort to cut, although we made every effort,” Director Ed Parent of Peru said.

Director Marianne Young of Carthage said, “We’ve already gone beyond what we said we were (originally) going to do and now we’re starting to cut staff. And I remember not so long ago, we drew the line at cutting staff, and now we’re cutting staff. We’ve really cut as much as what I think we can responsibly cut. Our responsibility is first to the kids.”

Superintendent Pam Doyen told the board that it was important that the school board members “drum up community support and get people to the polls.

“I did have a concern about going too deep (with budget cuts),” she said. “If you get to the point where you can’t offer a school system with extra and co-curricular activities and some solid educational opportunities and enrichment you are going to potentially have people looking to secure superintendent’s agreements (to go to school elsewhere),” Doyen said. She thought the cuts were of concern because they would create “a negative spiral.”

Dirigo High School Principal Michael Poulin explained the impact of one or two teacher positions cut at the high school.

“Whatever we have for resources we’re going to make things work,” he said. “I say right now we would spread it out over the four content areas (math, science, social studies and English) but we have not done anything with schedules yet obviously because of the budget situation.”

Poulin also said that teachers’ certifications had to be considered because some teachers are qualified to teach kindergarten through eighth grade and those teachers would not be able to be shared between the middle school and high school, although a teacher with a grades 7 through 12 certification could be shared by the schools.

In other business, the board voted to increase school lunch costs by 30 cents per lunch, compared to last year when the towns were part of RSU 10. Students in grades kindergarten through eight will pay $2.50 for lunch and students in grades nine through 12 will pay $2.75.

Director of Nutrition Deborah Nokes presented the school board with information about the school lunch program for the coming year.

“To increase revenue,” she said, “we really need to get more students into the lunch line. So by giving them more choices and having nutritional education in the program, we will have more students in the lunch line.”

Nokes also said the Maine Department of Education recommended that RSU 56 use $60,000 from its nutrition program for the school lunch program to make it viable.

In other news, Director of Buildings, Grounds, and Transportation Kenny Robbins requested the purchase of a $3,500 van for the school.

“We’re in a little bit of a bind,” he said. “With the withdrawal agreement (from RSU 10) we kept one van and we have a student that’s going to Margaret Murphy (in Lewiston) every day and we have another student that we transport to Dirigo Elementary but we really need to purchase a van to help this situation out,” he said.

The board agreed with Robbins and voted for the purchase.

Also, the board hired Susan Moore from Louisiana as director of special services. Moore’s most recent position was director of response to intervention at Einstein Charter School in New Orleans.

The next school board meeting is July 18 at 6:30 p.m. at Dirigo High School.

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Dirigo High School Principal Michael Poulin, standing, explains to Regional School Unit 56 directors Tuesday night how the Dixfield school would handle cutting one or two teacher positions. The board chose to cut one.

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