Voters in Sabattus, Wales and Litchfield rejected a $22.13 million budget for Regional School Unit 4 on Tuesday by more than a 2-1 ratio. The combined total was 493 no and 221 yes.

Voters rejected a $22.38 million budget in a June 13 referendum, 512 no and 225 yes. Twenty-three fewer people voted this time.

RSU 4 Superintendent Katy Grondin said she planned to meet with school board Chairwoman Jill Bouchard on Wednesday to discuss a timeline for the next referendum vote. It also means the two leaders and the school board will have to make increasingly difficult decisions on where to cut the budget.

In a brief statement after the vote results were known, Grondin wrote: “We will continue to work to bring in a budget that provides a high-quality education for all RSU 4 students that is also fiscally responsible and one that the citizens of Wales, Litchfield and Sabattus will support.”

Tom Wood, who volunteers as chairman of the Litchfield Budget Committee, points out that the state’s education funding formula is shifting more and more of the burden to towns, as home prices rise. Districts receive a share based on the school funding formula, which makes its determination based largely on a district’s student enrollment and overall property values.

At the same time, the costs of running the district are also rising.

“The costs of recruiting and maintaining the ranks of the teaching staff … transportation and energy costs are increasing, as are most of the basic needs of the school system,” Wood said. Still, he feels voters in the three towns are not willing to embrace such large increases in property taxes.

The $22.13 million budget was $837,815 more than last year’s budget.

“I sincerely hope that they continue to reach out to the communities as they develop their next proposal,” Wood said, adding the people he talks to are not anti-education. “They truly want good schools and believe that there exist compromises that can deliver for the students at a cost that can be found to be acceptable.”

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