Carthage Selectman Jan Hutchinson of Carthage speaks Tuesday during the Regional School Unit 56 directors meeting at Dirigo High School in Dixfield. In the foreground are school board director Bruce Ross of Dixfield and Superintendent Pam Doyen. Marianne Hutchinson/Rumford Falls Times

DIXFIELD — The Regional School Unit 56 board of directors agreed Tuesday that the 2021-22 budget should the the same as last year or slightly more.

Superintendent Pam Doyen asked residents of Canton, Carthage, Dixfield and Peru to attend Tuesday’s meeting to share their thoughts, and among concerns were the financial impact on taxpayers and the academic impact on students.

This year’s budget of $12.97 million would increase to $13.05 million if the $81,041 suggested by directors is added.

Selectman Jan Hutchinson of Carthage said he was there to “voice concerns that the townspeople have.” The Saddleback Ridge Wind turbines built starting in 2015 are depreciating, he said, while property taxes are increasing “immensely.”

“The townspeople are basically taxed to death and just can’t do it anymore,” Hutchinson said. He also said that compared to Dixfield, it costs “almost three times as much” to educate a student from Carthage because Dixfield is a larger town.

With a $13.05 million budget, Carthage would see a 5.442% increase in its contribution to RSU 56 and Canton would see a 12.83% increase. Dixfield and Peru would see decreases of 6.31% and 4.16%, respectively.

Selectman Scotty Kilbreth of Canton, who spoke via Zoom, said, “Nothing is more difficult than the school budget and I hope as you go through the process you consider the needs of all students. A good school system is critical to our communities; it helps us with growth and development and it attracts people to our towns. Thank you, and you’ve got our support.”

Director Joe Brissette of Peru said he was concerned about older people on fixed incomes.

“Now they are scraping just to get by; there’s people out there that are really hurting and any increase in taxes means a lot to them,” he said.

Director Angela Cushman of Peru agreed that the financial needs of the elderly should be addressed but she was also concerned about what could happen if young families aren’t attracted to the area.

“If we don’t have people in our community (who) buy homes in our community, what is the future of our community if we don’t have young families move into our area?” she asked. “If we only have the elderly here and their children and their grandchildren don’t come back to this area, what are we going to have in the future if we’re not investing in that?”

Bethany Meehan-Poulin, a teacher at T.W. Kelly Dirigo Middle School and parent of a 2017 Dirigo High School graduate, said via Zoom that her daughter had “suffered through the many years of cuts” and she and her classmates had “definitely paid the price for the lack of services” due to cuts in the curriculum.

“Many of them did find it quite a struggle when they transitioned to college because they really were ill-prepared,” Meehan-Poulin said. “I think it’s really shortsighted to continue to cut, cut, cut, and I hope that we don’t just think about this (budget) as a bottom line but that we think about this as our future.”

The board plans to vote on the budget proposal at 6:30 p.m. April 13 at Dirigo High School in Dixfield.

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