The controversial wording on an initial pamphlet that will be revised in the coming weeks. Submitted photo

POLAND — A controversial proposal to abolish voting on the annual school budget at the polls drew sharp criticism at Monday’s meeting of Regional School Unit 16 directors.

The idea, made public last week at a Mechanic Falls Town Council session, would discontinue what is known as the budget validation vote in each of the three district towns and rely instead on a vote held at the annual districtwide information meeting and vote, typically held one evening at Poland Regional High School to review the school board’s budget plan.

A pamphlet distributed at that council meeting said “RSU 16 is asking for your ‘no’ vote on this question.” School board officials said, though, the pamphlet’s wording was incorrect and that no decision was ever made on the issue.

Board member Stephen Holbrook of Minot called it “a political stunt” that shouldn’t have been done.

Superintendent Kenneth Healey said Monday that the issue arose only because the district is required by the state to ask every three years whether the public wants to keep voting on school budgets at the budget information meeting and later at the polls. He said the school panel wasn’t pushing any particular outcome.

“This is not something we have a choice. We have to ask the question,” he said.


School board members Monday said they have no problem with holding a budget vote at the polls. Some said maybe the district ought to get rid of the budget meeting instead.

“The intent was, from the beginning, that we provide some information,” Mary Martin, chairwoman of the school panel, said. “Maybe there’s some language on it that we want to change.”

Speaking for the Poland Select Board, Mary Beth Taylor told directors and school officials that the proposal to drop the vote at the polls “would hurt voters” and drastically reduce the number of people casting a vote for or against the yearly spending plan for the district’s schools.

Getting rid of the budget vote at the polls, Minot board member Matthew Callahan said, would be a mistake.

If the idea moves forward, he told the RSU 16 board, “You are literally taking democracy away from people.”

Aaron Ouellette of Mechanic Falls, a former RSU 16 director, said erasing the vote at the polls, would be “the complete, polar opposite” of what’s needed to get more people involved in the education budget process.

He said forcing interested people to go to a thinly attended meeting instead would effectively turn the decision-making over to “a few select” people instead of the entire community.

Martin said a reworded pamphlet should be considered in May after board members insisted it should be neutral in its wording.

RSU 16 has 1,683 students from Poland, Minot and Mechanic Falls.

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