The annual budget for the 2021-2022 school year has just been approved by the school board. We realize that the past year has been financially difficult for many and the school board has kept this front of mind when voting to approve this budget. We believe this budget looks out for both local students and taxpayers.

A tightening of the state’s purse strings means that RSU #78 will receive 9% less funding from the state next year. Even covering this loss, the total proposed increase to local taxpayers due to the school budget is approximately $157,000. When viewed through the lens of an approximately $5,000,000 budget, this 3.8% increase from last year is commensurate with the board’s emphasis on fiscal responsibility to its residents.

The school board bases our budget decisions on two main things: providing for the education and well-being of RSU #78 students while remaining cognizant of the school’s portion of the tax burden on residents. We seek to always strive for the best “bang for the buck” and focus on return on investment. This means prioritizing spending that has a direct impact on the quality of education. This can mean improvements to instruction or ensuring that students are emotionally and physically prepared to learn. An example of the former is the establishment of a pre-K program two years ago. This year, the latter is the reason for the increase to the budget for the next school year.

Last school year, even before the pandemic, the school’s staff and administration made the board aware of the increasing need for greater mental health access for students. They reported increased mental health related incidents that exceeded the capacity of the school’s local social work and counseling staff. As a result, we established full-time behavioral health specialist and therapist positions for the current school year. The need for these positions has only increased since. There is troubling data that the past year of Covid-related isolation and hardship have disproportionately affected adolescents, as evidenced by a significant increase in their emergency room mental health visits nationwide.

Last year, in an effort to blunt the financial impact of these new positions on taxpayers facing economic uncertainty amidst a pandemic, we partially funded them through a reserve account instead of the regular budget. This is not something that can be done on a regular basis, so the behaviorist and therapist are now line items in the budget and account for most of the requested increase. The remainder of the increase can be attributed to the addition of a part-time elementary school counselor and career educator for next school year. This position will complement the behaviorist and therapist by also helping to maximize young students’ likelihood for academic success by ensuring they are emotionally prepared to learn.

I encourage you to attend the budget hearing on June 1 with any questions you may have.

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