July 20, 2013

RSU 4 ponders what's next following second budget vote defeat

By Susan McMillan smcmillan@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

After the second attempt at passing a budget failed by a bigger margin than the first, leaders of Regional School Unit 4 are trying to figure out what's next.

"Personally, I can't see cutting any more educational programs and leaving things like sports in."

Board Chairman Robert Gayton Jr.

Voters in RSU 4 rejected a $17.7 million budget in June by a margin of 6 percentage points. It passed in Litchfield and Wales, but was defeated in Sabattus. Then last week, a $17.6 million budget failed by a margin of 8 percentage points. Litchfield still approved the budget, but Wales and Sabattus both said no.

Ninety-two percent of voters who responded to an advisory question on the ballot said the budget needs to be decreased rather than increased.

Scott Weeks, a school board member from Litchfield, said his sense is that some of the no voters were motivated less by the overall number and more by the sense that the district is spending needlessly on things such as iPads for kindergarten through third-graders.

Weeks said he also thinks the district shouldn't have a maintenance director, which was initially funded by federal stimulus money that has run out.

Weeks said before Tuesday's vote, he was 50-50 on whether he expected the budget to pass.

The school board will meet July 31 at Oak Hill High School to discuss, and possibly vote on, a third round of cuts.

The latest proposal included eliminating 8.7 teaching positions, and doing away with programs such as Spanish. It also included $175,000 in increased funding from the state.

Board Chairman Robert Gayton Jr., who represents Sabattus, said further cuts should be made in extra-curriculars.

"Personally, I can't see cutting any more educational programs and leaving things like sports in," Gayton said.

Will Fessenden, another Sabattus board member, also said he wouldn't support more cuts to classroom instruction and that reductions should be made in extra-curricular activities or co-curricular ones -- programs that are academic but not part of the normal curriculum.

Fessenden said he was surprised that the second budget was rejected and that the board needs more input from voters.

"I thought that it reduced the burden enough that enough people would be in favor of it," he said. "I'm hoping over the next couple of weeks we'll get more feedback about what would be a more palatable number for the voters."

Susan McMillan -- 621-5645
smcmillan@mainetoday.com

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