FARMINGTON — Regional School Unit 9 is proposing a $40.09 million budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year that begins July 1.

It’s an increase of $1.23 million, or 3.17%, from 2021-22.

The amount to be raised by taxpayers of the 10 towns is almost $13.88 million, $185,879 more than this year.

The spending plan was discussed at a community forum by the board of directors Tuesday.

Superintendent Chris Elkington and Business Manager Dan Higgins said in an interview that building the budget took into account preparation for implementing the 10 year-strategic plan, which will be finalized by the end of the school year and become effective.

“It’s a budget that adequately and appropriately funds public education while being fiscally responsible,” Higgins said.


Areas of note include a 646.60% increase for food services, an 8.01% increase for school administration, a 13.45% increase for facilities and maintenance, a 5.3% increase for special instruction and a 9.56% decrease for debt services.

There is a major increase in food services  – $41,052 – due to paying off meal debt, Elkington said.

He explained that the district has spent too much time and money on mostly unsuccessful attempts to ask families of students to pay off their meal debts.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government began offering students free breakfast and lunch. The federal government extended that program through the 21-22 school year.

The Maine Legislature passed a bill in July 2021 to offer students free meals through the 22-23 school year. Elkington is hopeful these meals will remain free in the future so there won’t be a repeated debt build-up.

The district is in a “good place … monetarily speaking,” to pay off the debt now, he said. The money will go back into the food service program to resume upgrading facilities.


Facilities and maintenance costs are going up by $577,690 due to projects, rising fuel costs for heating and restructured staffing positions.

Architectural and engineering studies are other spending plans under that cost center. The study will help take a look at some ways to execute the district’s 10-year strategic plan to be finalized in June.

School administration funds are increasing, in part due to the new support-staff contract and in part to restructuring positions and creating a new business office assistant to address various concerns across the district more quickly.

Special instruction would see a 5.3% increase of $381,959 to cover half the cost of an additional full-time social worker; account for contractual wage and benefit increases and add support for projected out-of-district placements to the special needs program.

Other costs that have contributed to the district’s higher budget include the rising cost of fuel, a new Outdoor Leadership program at the Foster Career and Technical Education Center in Farmington and a new teaching position in the event more students return from home schooling to a particular grade beyond an individual class or school’s capacity.

Though the budget is ultimately going up, Elkington said some reductions have been made across the board to offset increases, such as cutting a support staff position and plans to utilize federal grant money for special education.


A $430,327 decrease in debt service is the largest reduction because the final payment on the middle school renovations has been made.

During the meeting Elkington offered comparisons of the per-pupil costs between RSU 9 and other similarly sized districts. He presented data that shows the district is below the state average per-pupil costs by: 15 to 20% for kindergarten through eighth grade; 5% for grades 9 through 12, including the career and technical education center; and 25 to 30% for grades 9 to 12 without a CTE program.

“Every penny we use (is to) support the students in our district,” Elkington said.

Elkington attributed historically lower staff salaries to these figures, which he said will change over the coming years in the wake of new professional and support staff contracts. Elkington has also repeated at multiple meetings that resignations over the past couple years have taken a cumulative “600 years of experience” away from the district.

Director Irv Faunce pointed out that the lower per-pupil cost is not necessarily a sign of success because these lower salaries could impact the quality of education and ability to recruit and retain teachers.

“There’s a real cost to that that doesn’t get measured by this,” Faunce said. “And I think we always need to keep that in our perspective there, that being the lowest kid on the block, we pay a price sometimes.”


Elkington agreed that the figures are not necessarily something to be proud of, but rather a way to highlight “there isn’t a lot of waste in this number that I’ve seen in my 10 months here.”

Board Chairwoman Carol Coles pointed out that issues with staffing should start to improve now that the new contracts have reduced the number of steps needed for staff members to advance on the pay scale.

Now, staff will be able to see “a predictable path to better salaries over time and not take 40 years to get to the top of the grade,” Coles said.

The board will vote on the budget at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 26, at Mt. Blue Campus in Farmington. The final vote by residents will be June 14 at their respective polling stations.

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