WALES — Superintendent Andrew Carlton has proposed a $21 million budget to Regional School Unit 4 directors, a 9% increase from the current $19 million.

Carlton noted the steep increase was rare for the district, which serves Litchfield, Sabattus and Wales. In the past six years, the budget has risen by an average of just 0.67% each year.

“I don’t know that any other school district can say that,” Carlton said at the March 9 school board meeting. “We have done a really good job here, our budget has held the line.”

Since it was first proposed to the board, directors have cut $55,000 from the spending plan.

Roughly 80% of the increase is due to rising salary and benefits costs. Carlton explained the increase was necessary to recruit and retain quality staff members.

“To attract quality candidates and retain quality employees, we had to pay them,” Carlton said. “We’ve … negotiated some contracts that had some substantial increases, but they were necessary. They were necessary for our current employees, and they were necessary for us to fill open positions.”

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Carlton budgeted 57% more for heating and bus fuel, but noted that it still may not be enough.

“It’s incredibly volatile at the moment,” Carlton said. “I just don’t know if the fuel costs are enough. It’s such a gamble right now.”

Under the initial proposal, owners of a $100,000 home in Litchfield would pay an estimated $122 more in school taxes, $211 in Sabattus and $191 in Wales, according to Carlton’s calculations.

“It’s big, it just is,” Carlton said.

He also noted that special education costs are on the rise due to an increase in students and placements outside the district.

The district is also seeing a spike in referrals for psychiatric assessments. One recent student evaluation cost the district $3,000.

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“The number of referrals we have are through the roof,” Carlton said. “Some of this, I think … is post-pandemic.”

The budget will earmark funding for a new kitchen floor and the replacement of an anti-freeze system at the high school, as well as repairs to a steamer boiler for the middle school. The district is also aiming to lease a tractor at the middle school.

Carlton noted that all of these expenditures were necessary, either because they were required or because the current equipment is no longer functional.

“We’re running into some costs that we don’t have a choice but to do,” he said.

Carlton also proposed starting an employee appreciation program, a $5,000 item.

“We haven’t done that before, but it’s time, it really is,” Carlton said.

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Town valuation plays a significant role in determining state funding. The higher the town valuation, the more the state calculates taxpayers can afford to contribute to local schools.

“The valuation of the towns kind of dictates what we have to raise locally to get the state funding,” Carlton said.

In the past year, town valuations have increased by 5.5% in Litchfield, 4.9% in Sabattus and 3.7% in Wales, greater than the seven-year average.

The district will receive $500,000 more from the state than last year, but the district will be expected to raise $137,000 more from residents.

“We’re having to pay more to get more,” Carlton said.

The budget referendum will take place on June 14.


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