FARMINGTON — Regional School Unit 9 (RSU 9) is proposing a $40.09 million budget for the 2022-23 school year.

The budget is a $1.23 million (3.17%) increase from 2021-22.

It would come at an almost $13.88 million cost to taxpayers across the district’s 10 towns – a $185,879 (1.36%) increase from this year.

The budget was discussed at a budget presentation and community forum held during the RSU 9 Board of Director’s Tuesday, April 12, meeting.

Superintendent Chris Elkington and Business Manager Dan Higgins spoke with the Franklin Journal Tuesday morning in advance of the presentation to explain the budget.

“I think we have been fair and not extravagant in trying to make increases,” Elkington said. “[The increases are] really to build for the strategic plan.”


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

Elkington and Higgins said that building the budget took into account preparation for implementing the district’s 10 year-strategic plan, which will be finalized by the end of the school year and then set into motion.

Increased spending areas of note include a 646.60% increase for food services, 8.01% increase for school administration, 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  – up 646.4% to $41,052 – due to what Elkington said is the one-time cost to pay off meal debt.

Elkington 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 state legislature then 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.

“We think right now with the good place the district is in, monetarily speaking … this is a good time to just get rid of this debt all at once,” Elkington said. “What we’re doing is putting money in the budget to give it to the food service program … they’re holding this debt … and this money would allow them to continue to upgrade other facilities, kitchens.”

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

Projects include replacing the carpeted flooring (which can improve air quality) at Mt. Blue High School, roof replacement at G.D. Cushing School and roof repair at Academy Hill School.

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.

One aspect of the study will include methods to potentially expand the district’s pre-kindergarten program from two to four days a week.


The maintenance and operations cost center will also include restructuring positions including directors of support services, transportation/custodial services and finance and operations.

School administration funds are increasing, in part due to the new support-staff contract and in part to restructure positions and create a new business office assistant to address various concerns across the district at a faster pace.

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.

That final $155,000 spending item depends on if more programs around the state close, Elkington told the board.

“It’s a critical area of concern,” he said.

Other costs that have contributed to the district’s increased budget include anticipating the rising cost of fuel, a new Outdoor Leadership program at the Foster Career and Technical Education Center and a new teaching position in the event that 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.

To try and keep costs down, the district is cutting a support staff position due to “an excess of positions” and plans to utilize federal grant money for special education, Elkington said.

A $430,327 (10%) decrease in debt-service costs is the largest reduction because the final payment on the middle school renovations has been made.

Elkington and Higgins also discussed how Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) grants will take some costs out of the budget to be spent on HVAC systems and the expansion of outdoor spaces.

The district has so far spent 100% of the first ESSER grant, half of the second, and 10% of the third – leaving approximately $6-6.5 million to be spent, Elkington noted.

However, Higgins and Elkington emphasized the funds must “meet the parameters of what the federal funding was designed for,” Higgins said.


It can be spent to “improve air quality, increase spaces, increase experiences, [expand] outside instructional support … and stuff related to health and welfare of students,” Elkington said.

The district has until September 2024 to spend the final installation of ESSER funds.

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: 15-20% for kindergarten through eighth grade; 5% for grades 9-12 including the career and technical education center; and 25-30% for grades 9-12 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.

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.


Faunce explained he’s “heard over the last three to four years the difficulty we had retaining qualified teachers and recruiting qualified teachers. And the experience we’ve lost, as in [Elkington’s] example, of 600 years of experience.

“There’s a real cost to that that doesn’t get measured by this. 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,” Faunce said.

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 of Directors Chair 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.

“We’re hoping that that will continue to keep and retain good teachers because they can 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 to adopt the budget at the Tuesday, April 26, meeting as warrant articles to be approved by voters for a referendum election at the Tuesday, May 3, meeting.

The referendum vote will be held June 14.

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