JAY — The proposed budget for 2021-2022 in Regional School Unit 73 is $20.75 million, a 2.93% increase over the current spending plan.

Last year, voters in Jay, Livermore and Livermore Falls approved a $20.16 million budget.

Thursday night, Feb. 11, Superintendent Scott Albert told directors prior to the budget review that salaries and benefits make up 76.5% of the new budget and those lines increased 3.2%.

Insurance is expected to increase but the actual amount won’t be known until April, Albert said.

“We actually paid higher than expected last year,” he said. 5% increases for life insurance and disability are included in the budget, he noted.

Albert said the district doesn’t cover health insurance for spouses and families of staff if it can be obtained elsewhere. He noted some single plans have been changed due to layoffs at the mill or other circumstances. The average increase is $8,000 to $10,000, he added.

The budget includes another special education teacher at the elementary school and a special education teacher opening at the primary school, Albert said.

An increase of $177,886 for debt service is from the second phase of the Siemens energy project.

Three payments of $44,468 will be made with the first in November, Albert said. There will be four payments annually after that, he said.

Director Doug DiPasquale said he would like to see a budget with no increase.

“The tax base is going down in Jay,” he said.

Big slashes would be needed in programs and people for that to happen, Albert said.

Director Michael Morrell wanted to see where the slashes would come from if the budget didn’t increase.

More information will be shared at one of the next two planned meetings once the town evaluations and other numbers are available, Albert noted.

“Just because the budget is going up doesn’t mean that’s what the taxpayers are going to be paying,” he said.

The district will receive a little over $300,000 more from the state and there will be some carryover, Albert noted.

The special education budget is up $255,224.

This year 22 students came into the district, Special Services Director Tammy Verreault said. On average, there are 15-20 kids from Child Development Services each year she added.

Psychological services increased due to 35 students added to the district from 2019 to 2020 needing evaluations, not including students in referral, Verreault said.

A resource teacher was added to adhere to state guidelines.

Each special education case manager can have up to 35 students, Verreault said. One in the district has 32, another 28, getting close to that limit, she noted.

Contracted social services also increased, she said.

“The needs of the kids are higher,” Verreault said. “There’s been an increase overall in the mental health needs across the district.”

“Hiring additional ed techs is good,” director Phoebe Pike said but expressed concerns. Throughout the year the feedback gotten has been that there aren’t enough bodies, she said.

“Is this going to be enough,” she asked. “This year was unprecedented. I don’t want to shortchange teachers next year.”

Some children aren’t diagnosed as needing special education because of the stigma around children with disabilities, children with different conditions, Pike said.

“Some parents choose not to disclose, thinking that it will be okay,” she said.

Often it has been a teacher saying we need to evaluate the student, Pike noted. She expressed doubts the budget would be enough to help students next year.

“If I had a magic wand, I would of course add more bodies,” Verreault said. “We continually feel like we can’t do enough sometimes.”

She cited people changing positions and positions left unfilled for periods of time this year.

“One thing our teachers in the district overall are great at is absorbing that mercury drop,” Verreault said. “We are very stretched. It’s hard to predict, knowing who is moving in and out of the district. I share your concern.”

A position at the primary school wasn’t filled because a body couldn’t be found, Albert said. The position was reposted recently, he said.

Special education accounts for about half of the budget increase, director Joel Pike noted. Be aware of this, keep that in perspective, he said.

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