Elaine Ferland of Canton casts her ballot during RSU 56’s fifth budget and informational meeting held at Dirigo High School on Thursday. The fifth referendum vote on the 2019-20 school budget will be held in Canton, Carthage, Dixfield and Peru on Jan. 7.

DIXFIELD—Around 56 residents of the towns encompassing Regional School Unit 56 attended the fifth round of the budget informational meeting for this year’s school budget last Thursday.

A referendum vote for the $12.71 million budget is set for Jan. 7 in Canton, Carthage, Dixfield and Peru.

The $12.71 million budget for 2019-20 represents a 3.5% increase from the previous fiscal year and an average increase of 11.2% in assessments for Canton, Carthage, Dixfield and Peru.

The current budget proposal eliminates money for a principal for Dirigo High School and was approved 8-2 by the board of directors during their meeting on Nov. 26.

By cutting the DHS principal position, Superintendent Pam Doyen would become both principal and superintendent for the district and the change would decrease the budget by $36,000, the amount left over from the portion of the principal’s salary and benefits from this school year, said Doyen.

At Thursday’s meeting, Elaine Ferland of Canton questioned whether there had been a discussion during prior board of directors’ meetings about making the superintendent’s position half time rather than removing the Dirigo High School principal position.

“I’m thinking the salary of a superintendent is more than a high school principal, and so there would be more savings there by making the superintendent half time,” Ferland said.

Barbara Chow, chairman of the RSU 56 board of directors, told Ferland at least 10 schools in Maine are now combining their superintendent and principal positions into one position.

“We felt because a superintendent is very important for us, and the administrative team looked and saw what positions we already had in place in the school,” that it was best to combine the superintendent/principal position.

“The superintendent position is not gonna have an increase in money, from doing this combined position, so that is what we looked at when we made the decision of that cut,” she said.

Raquel Welch, Chairman of the Peru select board, questioned the board of directors about why they no longer needed the principal. “Back in June (you said) we needed the principal and the assistant principal,” she said.

Board Director Angela Cushman of Peru responded, saying, “I don’t think we ever said we didn’t need (a principal) we were just trying to make people happy (by cutting an administrative position).”

Another discussion leading to a vote to change the 3.5% increase of the current budget proposal to a 4.1% increase failed by a vote of 23-25.

Melanie Prescott of Dixfield brought forth the idea, saying: “Why aren’t we presenting a 4.1% (increase of the school) budget? Out of four towns, three of us are already paying a 4.1% (increase in our taxes). I understand that we voted it down once, but do the voters understand that we’re paying it anyway?”

“And then we keep the principal, we have better education for our kids and isn’t that why we’re here? To have a better education for our children?” Prescott asked.

Following the failed vote for a 4.1% increase in the school budget, Dianna Dority of Dixfield requested a vote to increase the budget by a 3.8% increase from this year’s budget, which also failed by a vote of 23-27.

Of the four towns, Canton has voted in approval of each of the four prior budget proposals while Peru and Carthage have voted against all four prior proposals. Except for the first proposal for an 8% increase in the school budget, voters in Dixfield approved each budget proposal, although by close margins.

During a special board of directors meeting held on Nov. 19, following the November 5 referendum vote of a 4.1% increase proposal, selectmen from each of the four towns were asked to give their views on the school budget.

At the November meeting, Carthage Selectman Jan Hutchinson spoke about the town’s decreasing valuation and increasing costs, reflecting voters’ rejection of the latest budget.

“Our concern is the fact that our town valuation is decreasing fast because of the wind tower depreciation,” Hutchinson said, referring to the 12-turbine Saddleback Ridge Wind Project.

“In 2020 the town will lose over $200,000 in taxes due to its lower valuation and the Franklin County budget has gone up $30,000 to 40,000 each year,” he said. Carthage’s assessment under the latest proposal would go up 42.27%.

Hutchinson also said higher taxes were “really hurting some of the taxpayers that are on a fixed income.”

Also at the mid-November meeting, Peru Selectmen Raquel Welch and Linda Hebert presented their views on why a budget has not passed in their town.

Hebert said some Peru residents felt the prior budget proposals weren’t “transparent,” and they didn’t vote for some of the higher budgets “because of the services that were in there that they didn’t agree with.”

She said she did not want to see positions cut and “believes in a quality education” but feels the district needs “to think outside the box and make some cuts that do not affect the education of our children.”

Also at the November meeting, Selectman Peter Holman of Dixfield said, “Dixfield has been OK with what the school budget has put forth,” he said, other than when the same budget amount with a 5% increase was presented at two referendums. “I would say that one thing, I would not put the same thing out again, ever.”

And Selectman Don Hutchins of Canton reminded the crowd that it costs the town “almost $1,000 to go and vote again,” and that RSU 56 pays $2,000 each time a budget is brought to a vote.

Hutchins said one reason district voters withdrew from RSU 10 in Rumford 2016 was to gain local control.

“Now I’m hearing that it was all about the money,” he said. “Now we have the local control and I think we’re exercising it, but I don’t think we’re exercising it the right way.”

Hutchins encouraged the board to go for a 6% increase because he heard some people at the meeting say that they would not approve the 3.5% increase because it is too low.

The first budget of $13.27 million was rejected in June. It was 8% higher than the year before and would have raised town assessments an average of nearly 23 percent. The second budget in July dropped to $12.9 million, a 5% increase and a 15.6% average increase in assessments.

The third proposal in September of $12.9 million was a 5% increase from the previous year and an average 15.6% increase in assessments. The fourth budget proposal in November was $12.79 million with a 4.1% increase from the previous year and an average increase in assessments of 13.64%.

Because the district did not have an approved budget to start the new fiscal year July 1, it has been legally operating at spending levels that represent about a 4% increase from 2018-19, Doyen said previously.

Voting on the school budget is set for Jan. 7 at the Canton Town Office from noon to 7 p.m.; Carthage Town Office, noon to 7 p.m.; Dixfield Town Office, noon to 6 p.m.; and Peru Town Office, noon to 7 p.m.

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Canton Selectman Don Hutchins, standing, speaks at the fifth budget and informational meeting held at Dirigo High School on Thursday. The fifth referendum vote on the 2019-20 school budget will be held in Canton, Carthage, Dixfield and Peru on Jan. 7. Marianne Hutchinson/Rumford Falls Times

RSU 56 Superintendent Pam Doyen, standing, at the fifth budget and informational meeting held at Dirigo High School on Thursday. Seated from left, Business Manager Mary Dailey, Board Director Chairman Barbara Chow of Dixfield, and Director Bruce Ross, also of Dixfield. The fifth referendum vote on the 2019-20 school budget will be held in Canton, Carthage, Dixfield and Peru on Jan. 7. Marianne Hutchinson/Rumford Falls Times


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