Voters in Regional School Unit 16 were on track Tuesday to back a budget that will hike property taxes in all three towns covered by the district, Poland, Mechanic Falls and Minot.

Results from the two towns facing the biggest tax increases — Mechanic Falls and Minot — favored the budget. Poland’s results were not available at press time, but officials expected the least opposition from the district’s most populated town.

The $24.3 million spending plan maintains the status quo for the district with the sole exception of adding a French teacher at Poland Regional High School.

What made the budget tough, though, was a reduction in state aid due to RSU 16 losing 74 students off its rolls last fall when they opted for home schooling after officials rejected the idea of having online-only lessons for anyone who wanted them. Many of them have since returned to school and more are expected to come back for the next school year, which is likely to operate full-time in the classroom if current COVID-19 trends continue.

School leaders hope that state aid may yet increase if the Legislature endorses Gov. Janet Mills’ call for Maine to reach 55% funding of education for the first time since voters insisted on it in a 2004 referendum. If that passes, the amount needed from local taxpayers will go down by more than $600,000.

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