PARIS — Maine School Administrative District 17 directors spent part of Monday’s meeting offering feedback from last week’s hearing and vote on the proposed $51.6 million budget, plus $2 million for capital improvements.

Chairman Troy Ripley of Paris said with more than 12,000 voters in the eight-town district, he wishes more people would participate in the process.

Director Curtis Cole of Norway said including statistics on how much or how little budgets have increased over the past several years could have added context.

The budget represents a 7.5% increase from the current year’s $47.95 million. However, adding the extra $2 million for capital reserve brings total projected spending next year to $53.6.million, which means the total budget will increase by 11.7%.

Several directors suggested including additional information would create more transparency for voters. Examples were amounts of the local share, proposed spending vs. previous year, and the Budget Committee’s recommendations for operations accounts.

“I liked the number of staff attending because I think it’s important for them to hear what the community says,” Director Veronica Poland of West Paris said. “This budget is a hard pill to swallow. It helps drive home that we need to do as much hard work as we can while being conscious of the money and see what we can do to come in under budget.

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“I was disappointed in the amount of people who show up,” she said. It’s important the community sees what is going to be spent. “As Curtis said, giving history and data is important. When people see the big number, there are uncontrollable issues” responsible for it.”

The majority of directors’ interpretations of comments and questions during the hearing mirrored Superintendent Heather Manchester’s comments after the May 14 meeting.

“There was recognition that the district needs to take care of and invest in the facilities,” Manchester said in an email. “Overwhelmingly, the voters in the room supported the board’s budget, and our schools are important to our communities.

“It is wonderful that many of the voters in attendance were willing to invest in our district infrastructure,” she said. “This will need to be a discussion at the Operations Committee and board levels.”

For the most part, directors were relieved that the community in general is supportive of the need to catch up on upkeep of school buildings after years of deferring it.

Voters approved an article asking for $2 million for maintenance, even though many were dissatisfied about how decisions will be made on spending it.

“I took away that we needed to put that money in the budget to take care of the basic maintenance and building repairs,” Director Christie Wessels of Paris said. “I also think we need to be very intentional on how we spend that $2 million.”

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