PERU — Voters in Canton, Carthage, Dixfield and Peru approved the Regional School Unit 56 budget following a hearing and budget validation meeting Tuesday.

A validation referendum on the $13.27 million spending plan for the 2019-20 fiscal year will be held June 11 at polling stations in all four towns.

If approved, the budget would mean an 8% increase over current spending and a 22.8% increase, on average, in local assessments, according to Superintendent Pam Doyen.

During the budget validation meeting, Peru Selectperson Carol Roach requested an amendment to the overall budget for a 5% increase rather than the 8% the board is seeking, but that amendment failed.

Another Peru resident suggested a 6% increase, which also went to a vote and failed.

Residents of Canton, Carthage, Dixfield and Peru approved the RSU 56 budget of $13.27 for 2019-20 during the annual budget meeting at Dirigo Elementary School on Tuesday. A referendum vote on the school budget will be held June 11 in each town’s polling place. Rumford Falls Times photo by Marianne Hutchinson

“We have 1,560 people in Peru,” Roach said, adding, “311 families visit the Servants Heart food pantry every month and can’t afford to go to Dunkin’ Donuts everyday. I think there has to be a balance, especially for the Select Board and the towns to know what the families can afford and that has to be a consideration in how the votes come down.”

Roach added, “I’ve received a very strong message from the citizens in Peru that the budget presented here tonight is too high and that the citizens cannot afford the increase. Be it as it may, that’s the reality in Peru, Maine.”

Trisha Fletcher of Dixfield noted — and Doyen agreed — that it would take a 6% increase just to maintain the status quo.

If the proposed budget is cut, “that means there will be cuts to (personnel and programs),” Fletcher said. She added that she has a daughter graduating from Dirigo High School this year who hopes to come back to live in the area and to have an ophthalmologist practice.

“(My daughter wants to) help our community be a better community, to provide a job and education for our future children. And cutting the budget is saying to these kids who are in our school district right now, that we really don’t care what you get for an education or what is provided to you,” Fletcher said.

Arthur Chamberlin of Canton also supported the school board’s proposal.

“I’d like to address those of you who are leaning toward a cut of any kind: They’re all our children, whether the children you have have graduated or whether they’re not in school yet or whether you don’t have children in the school at all,” he said.

“It’s our responsibility as citizens of this district to educate the ones that are here the best we can do it,” he said. “And we can’t do it by cutting the budget that’s been prepared by professionals in the classrooms and cut by professionals before it got to the administrative team and then cut again before it finally gets approved by the professionals sitting at the table in front of us. It’s our job to speak up and support them and support the kids that are in these buildings.”

Budget validation voting will be held June 11 at the Canton Town Office from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; the Carthage Town Office from noon to 8 p.m.; the Dixfield American Legion hall from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and the Peru, Town Office from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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