Board to pitch $33.8 million budget to voters in second go-round
Belfast — The Regional School Unit (RSU) 20 Board of Directors voted in favor of sending a budget package totaling $33,823,542 to residents in the district's eight towns later this month in its second attempt to gain voter approval for a 2013-14 budget.
The directors made that decision after an hour-long special meeting at the RSU 20 Central Office in Belfast Tuesday night, July 2, but the vote was not unanimous — Directors Stephen Hopkins, Debora Riley, Denise Dakin, Valerie Mank and Sharon Catus were opposed.
Directors who approved the budget proposal were Charles Poirier, Dean Anderson, Alexa Schweikert, Tony Swebilius, Percy King, Alan Wood, Tony Bagley and David Ferguson.
Directors Stephanie Wade and Jason Perkins were absent Tuesday.
The board began the meeting with a budget proposal totaling $33.7 million, but Anderson called attention to a letter from captain Albert Stevens School Principal Jody Henderson, who appealed to the directors to cover the cost of a secretary's position at her school.
Anderson, who read portions of Henderson's letter, stated the school houses 326 pre-K-5 students and with the secretary and administrative assistant working the front office, it can still be a tough job to keep the school running safely and smoothly. Henderson attached a list of the various jobs the secretary performs in a given day, work that includes greeting parents and the public, answering phones, maintaining the building schedule and student records, calling parents whose children are absent so all children are accounted for, and administering medication and/or first aid in the absence of the school nurse.
“It seems like quite a list to be taken on by another person who already has a full time job,” said Anderson. “I'd would just like to reconsider that.”
Wood said the situation is similar at Troy Howard Middle School, which was another building that stood to lose a secretarial position.
When directors asked Henderson to further address the secretary's role at CASS, Henderson outlined the events of one recent day at the school, during which a student with a known medical condition had a seizure. Henderson said while one of the front officer staffers called 911 and remained on the line until the ambulance arrived, the second half of the front office staff was trying to reach the child's parents and provide comfort to the child. Then, just as the ambulance was leaving with the first child, the front office staff learned another child was hurt on the playground and may have suffered a broken arm. The same scenario played out again, only this time, the front office staff had difficulty reaching the parents, which added a new challenge to an already harrowing situation.
On that particular morning, Henderson said both she and the school nurse, who is split between CASS and the Drinkwater School in Northport, were not on campus.
After some additional discussion, Swebilius made a motion to add $81,115 back into the proposed budget, bringing the total up to the $33.8 million mark.
Dakin questioned why Searsport Elementary School, with a similar student population, operates with one secretary, as did Catus, who said the current situation is not equitable.
RSU 20 Superintendent Brian Carpenter said the Searsport Elementary Principal Linda Bowe did not request an additional secretary this year, but Catus said a second person may be needed there, especially with the addition of Stockton Springs students.
“If she thought she needed two, she would have put in for two,” said Bagley.
Speaking to adding back the money to fund the secretaries, Bagley said since many voters spoke in favor of keeping those positions at the first budget validation meeting, it was likely voters would restore the positions at the next budget validation meeting.
“Either we do it now, or they do it in two weeks,” he said.
“I have a problem with that reasoning,” said Catus. “Add it back into the budget and my town will vote it down.”
Hopkins said when you consider the tallies from the failed budget vote last month, residents in the seven towns surrounding the city rejected the budget by a margin of nearly two-to-one.
“It just goes to show you the surrounding towns are hurting,” he said. “We have to make sure we address that problem. They are taxpayers too.”
Wood said he believed there were inequities between the schools on either side of the river and he felt those should be addressed. He used the School Resource Officer's post at Belfast Area High School as an example, questioning why Searsport does not have one too.
Prior to the board's affirmative vote to restore the funding for the secretaries, Carpenter reminded the group the board was only adding money back into that budget line, but directors are not held to restoring the positions.
Later in the meeting, Wood moved to reduce the budget by $41,127 — the amount of money the district needs to fund the school resource officer. Carpenter advised the board to hold off an taking any action on the amendment, though, because the Belfast City Council was considering funding the position at its meeting, which was also Tuesday night. If the board removed that amount from the budget line and the city opted not to cover the cost, then the position would effectively be eliminated.
Directors ultimately voted down the amendment, leaving the budget proposal at $33.8 million.
If the $33.8 figure remains the same after the budget validation meeting, which is scheduled for July 22 at 7 p.m. at Searsport District High School, and voters approve it at the polls Tuesday, July 30, it would bring a 12.3 percent increase in the assessments for the eight towns. The impact on each town would be as follows: Belfast, 12.72; Belmont, 17.19; Morrill, 15.13; Northport, 9.88; Searsmont, 13.39; Searsport, 13.93; Stockton Springs, 8.96; Swanville, 12.8.
In other news, directors re-elected Bagley as chairman for the coming year, and chose Dakin as the vice chair.
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Tanya has been a general news reporter in Waldo County since 1997.
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