DIXFIELD — Voters by a show of hands approved a budget for Regional School Unit 56 on Tuesday night, but the spending plan still faces a referendum in the district’s four towns.

The $12.9 million budget for the current school year will go to voters at polling places in Dixfield, Carthage, Canton and Peru on Sept. 17.

The RSU 56 board of directors votes during the third informational meeting and vote on the RSU 56 school budget on Tuesday at Dirigo High School in Dixfield. Rumford Falls Times photo by Marianne Hutchinson

Tuesday’s vote was the third attempt to get a budget passed.

The board opted to stay with the $12.9 million proposal rejected in July by a vote of 314-301 in the four towns. It represents a 5% increase over the 2018-19 budget and an average 15.6% increase in town assessments.

“The board felt strongly that moving below the 5% budget-to-budget increase would seriously compromise the integrity of our programs,” Superintendent Pam Doyen said at Tuesday night’s meeting. “Our students deserve a quality education and the board is charged to ensure that the decisions they make are in the best interests of our schools and students.”

The first budget proposal of $13.27 million in June represented an 8% increase from last year’s budget and an average increase in town assessments of nearly 23%. Voters rejected it 485-343.

RSU 56 residents voted in 2016 to leave RSU 10 and form their own district to save money and have more local control.

During Tuesday’s meeting, many residents asked questions and commented on the budget. “Can you understand people feeling like you’re slapping them in the face by coming up with the same budget number that was voted down?” one man asked.

Other questions were more general, with some people questioning why student behavior has gotten worse than in years past.

“The needs of our students have greatly increased over the years and therefore that is one reason why we have asked for a social worker in each of our three buildings,” Doyen said.

“That is one reason why we have asked for an (assistant principal/athletic director combined position), because we need additional support at the high school for the day-to-day running,” she said.

“Children have a lot of adverse childhood experiences,” Doyen said. “There is a huge body of research on how that changes their brain development. Adverse childhood experiences include single-family parents, incarcerated parents, drug use in the household, domestic violence in the household.

“There are lots of reasons why our kids are coming to school not being able to function in a manner that we would typically think of (as normal) in a school system,” she said.

Others questioned how people would be able to afford their homes if the school budget keeps rising.

Director Barry Prescott of Dixfield said funding shortfalls begin with the state.

“State government has promised to fund schools more than they are and each year they fund them less and less,” Prescott said.

Doyen added, “It’s not necessarily the school budget that’s the issue, it’s that a 5% school budget increase ends up with an average 15% increase (in taxes) to our towns.”

Polling locations and times Sept. 17 are:

  • Canton Town Office, 1 to 7 p.m.;
  • Carthage Town Office, 3 to 7 p.m.;
  • Dixfield Town Office, noon to 6 p.m.;
  • Peru Town Office, noon to 7 p.m.

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Gunnar Bradbury of Dixfield asks the RSU 56 board of directors a question at the third informational meeting and vote on the RSU 56 school budget on Tuesday at Dirigo High School in Dixfield. Rumford Falls Times photo by Marianne Hutchinson

The RSU 56 board of directors vote during the third informational meeting and vote on the school budget Tuesday at Dirigo High School in Dixfield. Rumford Falls Times photo by Marianne Hutchinson

Residents of Canton, Carthage, Dixfield and Peru vote on the RSU 56 school budget Tuesday at Dirigo High School in Dixfield. Rumford Falls Times photo by Marianne Hutchinson


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