In RSU 20

Residents pass $35.5 million budget at district wide meeting

By Tanya Mitchell | May 30, 2014
Photo by: Tanya Mitchell Residents cast their votes at the Regional School Unit 20 budget validation meeting Thursday night, May 29 at Troy Howard Middle School.

Belfast — Nearly 90 residents from the eight Regional School Unit 20 towns turned out at Troy Howard Middle School and passed a budget totaling $35,565,772.35 during the district wide budget validation meeting Thursday night, May 29.

Residents disposed of the warrant in just over an hour.

RSU 20 Superintendent Brian Carpenter directed voters to pages in the budget information packet that illustrated the decline in revenue from the state since 2009, as well as the steady decline of students enrolled in the district over the last five years.

"We're losing students, and that means we're losing subsidy," said Carpenter.

Carpenter also explained that state valuations have decreased for some towns, including the city of Belfast. While that means the state traditionally gives more money to areas with lower valuations, residents must also understand that the minimum mill rate expected under the state's funding formula, known as Essential Programs and Services, has increased from 6.69 in 2009-10 up to 8.10 for 2014-15.

"It means the local has to raise more in order to get the state subsidy," he said. "If we don't raise the money to get the state subsidy, we don't get it."

Overall, in the last six years, Carpenter said the district has seen a decline in state subsidy to the tune of more than $2 million.

In a letter Carpenter drafted in advance of Thursday's meeting, he explained the proposed figure of $35.5 million reflects the return of some items that were cut from last year's budget such as supplies and middle school level co-and extra-curricular stipends. The district also saw a 9.5 percent increase in health insurance costs—a portion of which will be paid by district employees—and a 6.5 percent jump in the cost of property insurance.

Carpenter said the finance committee had initially returned a second bus run for students residing in the former School Administrative District 56 towns, but in an effort to offset the loss of revenue and increased costs, the committee opted to pull that item out of the proposal before taking the package to the full board for approval. In addition, the committee reduced the contingency line, which gave the district a total savings of more than $400,000.

"As you look at this budget tonight, as it states in my letter, there is no extra," he said, noting that the reductions made for this year's proposal do not impact students or programs. Any additional money voters may have wished to remove from the budget, he said, would "hurt students."

"And if you want to cut more, we're cutting programs," he said.

Article 1, which called for the approval of $13,194,627.04 to cover regular instruction (including pre-K-12 salaries, benefits and the restoration of $210,061.05 for supplies), prompted questions about student-teacher rations in the district.

Resident Jean Dube said she had information suggesting the district employs 22.54 teachers over what is outlined in EPS, and she said she was concerned to see that between the two high schools, there are 65 classes with 10 students or less.

Resident Joyce Scott said the district had made a considerable step toward moving closer to the EPS ratio this year, as the previous budget funded 33 teachers over what is outlined in EPS. She asked if the district could back out another $200,000 from the contingency line, but Carpenter said that would leave the district without a financial safety net.

"There will be nothing if something happens," he said.

Article 4, which included restored funding for middle school sports and leadership stipends, generated discussion about volunteer coaches versus paid coaches.

"It has come to our attention that with volunteer coaches is inequity," said Carpenter. In addition, volunteer coaches pose a bigger liability to the district than a paid coach, as the district can dictate those individuals to attend trainings in first aid, concussions and CPR.

Resident Jeff Davis asked if there had been any incidents involving volunteer coaches in the last year, and Carpenter said THMS track and field was not offered to the 120 or so students who wished to participate due to supervision issues. Carpenter said some coaches agreed to stay on this past year without the stipends, but many indicated they would not do the job, sans the stipend, in the upcoming year.

"My son, a middle school student, did cross country with a volunteer coach," said a man in the audience. "He did not do track, but would dearly loved to have done it."

At one point in the meeting, a resident sought clarification on the 9.5-percent increase in health insurance for district employees.

"Is any of that passed on to the employees?" she said.

RSU 20 Finance Director Chandra Hodgdon said depending on the type of plan an employee has, they must pay a portion of the increased premiums.

The woman said she thought the listing of the 9.5 percent figure was a "misrepresentation" because residents were not getting a true picture of the projected increase.

"The budget is based on what the employer will be paying," said Hodgdon.

During discussions about the transportation line in Article 8, Carpenter explained that a single bus run cannot be done in the former SAD 34 towns due to the geographic makeup of that part of the district.

"We would need six more buses," said Carpenter.

Article 11, which was listed in the warrant as "all other expenditures," showed a 246-percent hike from the previous year (from $70,000 last year up to $242,000 last year). Carpenter explained the increase is necessary to fully fund the food service program because revenues for that program have been underestimated in recent years. Also, the district has not increased the price of meals and the additional money is needed to offset costs.

"Now we have to pay for what we haven't paid for over time," said Carpenter.

Carpenter added that as students move into middle and high school, they are not completing their paperwork for free or reduced lunch, which also impacts the program's budget.

"We're losing that revenue," said Carpenter.

"Can you not feed them?" said Scott, referring to students who do not complete the paperwork and cannot pay for their meals.

"No, we cannot deny anybody a meal," said Carpenter.

"Perhaps it's time for parents to start feeding their own children," said resident Amy Fradel.

RSU 20 Food Service Director Perley Martin said this is the first year he had been asked to get involved with the expense and revenue side of his department. Despite the decreased participation in the program and the revenue shortfall, Martin said voters could likely expect to see a figure that is less than the amount listed in the article this year.

"There will still be issues, but not to this extent," said Carpenter.

Throughout the meeting, some directors voted against some of the articles. RSU 20 Director Stephen Hopkins said he did so because he felt the district should have pursued the school consolidation concepts, which the board put on ice earlier this year after all eight towns indicated interest in withdrawing from the RSU.

Comments (20)
Posted by: Jeff Davis | Jun 04, 2014 18:58

I didn't say that you had no legal right to lose my trust. I explained why I was losing faith in the board. Maybe the state trust you. But they don't vote here. I do. I was simply offering a path to gain that trust back. If you don't want it, fine. Toss that policy manual in the the trash if you want and wing it from here. You don't read it anyway.



Posted by: Christopher Hyk | Jun 04, 2014 12:02

Just out of morbid curiosity I thought it would be interesting to get to the bottom of this "Policy Issue", spoke with Charlotte Bates the MSMA expert on Policy. She was happy to state unequivocally that one does not give up one's status as a private citizen when one becomes a member of the School Board. No "Law" has been broken and no Policy violated by me expressing a private opinion, period. It isn't great" Boardsmanship", but this Budget issue is so far out of line I felt compelled to express a private opinion. Also sought a legal opinion and was also assured that the first amendment in the Constitution of the United States preserves my right to comment as a private citizen.

Christopher Hyk



Posted by: Caitlin Hills | Jun 03, 2014 19:21

I too will be voting my conscience when in the voting booth. As I did when I voted to support the school budget. Please vote!

 

Caitlin Hills

taxpayer



Posted by: Jeff Davis | Jun 03, 2014 16:48

Nicely put. I hope the rest of you are taking notes.



Posted by: Debora Riley | Jun 03, 2014 16:23

The majority of the RSU 20 Board approved the budget. I did not. By law, I need to follow the vote of the majority of the Board and  support the budget, in public. However; in the voting booth June 10th, I will be able to vote however I see fit. Please vote June 10th. THANKS!

 



Posted by: Debora Riley | Jun 03, 2014 16:23

The majority of the RSU 20 Board approved the budget. I did not. By law, I need to follow the vote of the majority of the Board and  support the budget, in public. However; in the voting booth June 10th, I will be able to vote however I see fit. Please vote June 10th. THANKS!

 



Posted by: Jeff Davis | Jun 03, 2014 16:09

You can thank me by following your own polices and stop apologizing to the new guy for me insisting that he does the same. And I don't need your encouragement to exercise my first amendments rights. I already do it.



Posted by: Alan Wood | Jun 03, 2014 15:32

Jeff:  I really did not want to stir you into your pitch for following the rules, as I always encourage freedom of speech and see the importance of this right. However, in my real estate profession, I go door to door handing out pamphlets and talking to people. I went to every door in Stockton Springs. I did NOT tell you I wouldn't list your place, you told me you had picked out a realtor.  I did NOT come to your house to complain about the district. We know each other and we talked about the district. You can always call me up and I can always call you up. I have NO problems with your expressions. If I did I would call you up and discuss openly.  You take care and thank you for sharing your thoughts on the school district and your involvement.



Posted by: Jeff Davis | Jun 03, 2014 14:29

Taking the risk of being dubbed an Internet troll, I would like to do what some BOD members are constantly asking for and exercise my right as red-blooded American to be heard. This thread has kind of upset me. I don't run to jump on people who speak out against "the district," which it is not. It an RSU. Perhaps the refusal to change the terminology stems from the inability to forgot the former district. Whatever the case, I have arthritis and don't run at all.

I do have experience in Human Services and have been in a few court rooms. I have worked for institutions under court order. The first thing the attorney wants to know is what the policy is. He second thing the attorney wants to know is if you followed your own policy. If you did, you might win. If you didn't, you definitely lose. If you follow policy and your policy is inline with state law, then you don't have to be concerned if a $20 a month employee gets sued. Policy is not intended to stifle your rights. It is meant to protect you and me...the taxpayer. I have a dog in this fight. I have the right to insist the BOD members follow their own policies. I explained this to Alan when he came to my house under the guise of wanting selling my home, and then saying he didn't list homes in my area. He wanted to complain about "the district." I invited him into my living room, offered him coffee and heard him out. Now he calls me a puppet. Dude? Uncool. Or maybe he was taking about Tony. I hope he was. He is the Chairman who reminded Chris of school policy. If so, I'll let him deal with it. If not, allow me to point out that we have no school age children and our taxes are paid. I became involved in this issue because the town manager advised me that we had a tax delinquency problem and the reason we did was because of the ever-increasing cost of education. During last years debates, I heard a teacher say she had to borrow pencils because the budget was "frozen." So, we organized a bike ride and raised over $1000 for school supplies. I learned there would be no Harvest Parade in Stockton because y'all voted to close our school. So, we organized and held the Harvest Parade. Thank you, Rich Coach and Linda Bowe. During that event, and at the American Legion Easter Egg Hunt at Fort Point, we collected and gave out over three hundred early readers and chapter books to area children. Then, I heard that our schools needed volunteers and I became one. If someone is pulling my strings, then he or she is one benevolent son of a gun. And I pray to Almighty that he or she keeps pulling them. I think he or she is doing a fine job. And I do tire of having to pull my own strings.

The public does not need faith and trust in Jeff Davis. They need faith and trust in the BOD. Don't lose that faith and blame me. I didn't lose that faith. You did.



Posted by: Harold Richardson | Jun 03, 2014 12:22

One only has to watch how the Belfast City Council operates and conducts themselves compared to the RSU board to realize the source of the dysfunction and why the school system is in such a mess.  It is clear at every meeting that the City Manager works for and answers to the City Council.  Debate is encouraged and the public has the opportunity twice at each meeting to speak to whatever they want.  Doesn't mean they get what they want but they get the chance to be heard.  It seems the employer, employee relationship in the RSU is out of order.  I'm sure that everybody is a good person doing the best they can but the system has been broken for a very long time at a cost of millions of dollars.



Posted by: Jeff Davis | Jun 03, 2014 11:44

Alan, I recall last year when I brought school policy to your attention and I recall that you told me that you consider school polices to be a guideline to go. They are not. They were drawn up to comply with state law and one of the policies indicates that you, as a BOD, shall follow that policy to the letter. You, as a BOD member, have the ability to have policy changed or have it suspended. But there is a policy for that as well. I'd tell you where these are located, but I think you should try to become with the manual yourself. You've been on the board for quite some time.

A private citizen does not write your polices for you. But we expect you to follow them. I suspect that one of the problems we have today come from the failure of people to follow their own rules.

I don't need to run for the school board as we have excellent representation now. However, if I did run and get on, I'd follow the rules until I could change them. I'm a rule maker, not a rule breaker.



Posted by: Alan Wood | Jun 03, 2014 11:20

Thank you Chris Hyke for your honest responses. i apologize that we have people who run around trying to catch a board member saying anything critical of the district. There is little to ever gain by a gag rule in which board members express a dissenting opinion. However we are constantly being reminded that a law suit may be coming against a $20 per month school board member. The world always need to express honest views as we always need to compromise. The board is NOT supposed to ever say anything disagreeable of the school districts' or superintendents' decisions.  How insecure are we suppose to be?  I better be careful as my comments are more then folding my hands saying the district is the most wonderful district in the universe.  Again thanks to everyone who gives an honest opinion. For instance Withdrawal is the most important decision our voters will make and it is against our policy for any board member to express an opinion to be for Withdrawal but we can state we are against Withdrawal. I hope Chris and the rest of the board will behave and NEVER state anything critical of the majority and I hope we teach our children about the importance of conformity as I missed that lesson and it has caused me more problems in life.I wonder why so few people want to involve themselves to be a school board member, unless they are a puppet. Pull my string please.



Posted by: Jeff Davis | Jun 03, 2014 06:59

 

Catlin, write that down for your next review that BDD refers to in RSU 20 policy handbook. His last review noted no problems of this nature. It was good to see you at the Rite-aid. Hope you're doing well.

I would like to address the subject to the dual role of BOD member and private citizen. I have heard it come up a number of times in the past year.

A BOD member is afforded rights under school policy and state law that private citizens are not afforded. RSU policy's affords a private citizen but five minutes to express a public opinion to the board and allows the board the right to limit that five minutes if attendance dictates it. On a side note, I don't know how they can determine attendance prior to a meeting and have the two limit printed in their flier. But, perhaps I'm reading the policy wrong. It's been a long time since I have been subject to policies.

My point is that I can't do what you can do, because I am a private citizen. For BOD members who want to switch private citizen and elected official hats every time they run afoul of BOD restrictions and proclaim their rights as a private citizen is wrong and annoying. They seem to think they have it made. They are little more than us and a little more than them.

I'm not saying this is illegal, nor immoral. I'm just saying that it lessens the respect the public has for the BOD. And further, y'all shouldn't discuss these things in public. If you have a problem with him, we can't straighten him out for you. And we can't fire him either. That ball is your court.

Jeff Davis - Nobody at Large



Posted by: Caitlin Hills | Jun 02, 2014 18:23

While I do not agree with Mr. Hyk's position on this matter, I do believe he has the right to voice his opinion without reprimand from the RSU administration.

Caitlin Hills

RSU 20 School Board Member



Posted by: Harold Richardson | Jun 02, 2014 16:05

Thank-you Mr Hyk,  When the presentation of the budget gets convoluted with issues such as hot lunch and the stipends for coaches, the real reason for this debacle gets lost amongst much of the public.  I believe that is done intentionally to steer the discussion away from the only issue, which is the failure to consolidate over these last 5 years.



Posted by: Christopher Hyk | Jun 02, 2014 14:30

Mr. Richardson... speaking purely as a "Private Citizen" ( I've been reprimanded by the Chairman of the School Board for my previous comment which was brought to his attention by Superintendent Carpenter) I don't believe any "shenanigans" are involved in this Budget (it isn't that evolved), I believe it is simple and total capitulation. If the Budget isn't voted down on June 10th the waste and excess will only grow worse.

Christopher Hyk ( Private Citizen)



Posted by: Harold Richardson | Jun 01, 2014 09:16

It's deja vu all over again.  I am declaring shenanigans with this budget.  The problem has nothing to do with hot lunch or the meager stipend for the coaches or the buses, or even the increase in health insurance.  That is just obfuscation from those presenting this to the public.  The obscene waste of taxpayer dollars is caused by the inability of those in charge to shrink the staff and excess infrastructure to match the current student population.  Stop blaming the state and everything and everybody else for the poor job that has been done these last several years in controlling spending.  The present course will eventually lead us to having one student left that costs us 35 million dollars.  Maybe at that point we will at least admit that RSU20 has been incredibly unfair to the people paying the bills and the kids who are not getting all the opportunities they deserve.



Posted by: Joyce C Scott | May 30, 2014 21:10

I wanted to apologize for my typos.  Especially to Ellie Weaver.

The audit is for the end of June of 2013 and the budget was actually for 33.3 million.

By the way the state paid us over $600,000.00 more than last year because the per child rate increased considerably.

By the time I write again I hope to have new glasses.

Joyce Scott



Posted by: Joyce C Scott | May 30, 2014 19:50

I did a little research today and found that the budget for RSU #22 is $28,838,498.87 with 2200 students.  They are raising additional local share of 1,353,000.00 while the RSU #20 budget is $35,565,722.35 and our additional local share is $6,309,873.56 for a approximately 2300 students.

In Mount View or RSU#3 the budget for 1400 students from 11 towns is $19,417,500.00 and the additional local share to be raised is $654,769.10.

This points to a fact that long years have passed with RSU #20 not having to tighten it's belt  No one has apparently noticed and the conversation has said, let the public decide.

School financing is complex and takes a lot of energy to learn.  The public really can only vote the budget down and they do not have the detailed information to make informed decisions within departments.

I noticed in the conversation at the meeting last night that the director of nutrition noted that he had not been asked to look and revenues and expense in fifteen years.  Not until the auditors requested a plan as to why we have such a deficit.

The well respected and diligent school nurse, Ellis Weaver, noted that this was the first time she had been given information concerning the importance of the completed paperwork as it relates to the food reimbursement program and that in her tracking she could make improvements.

These speak to serious management communication issues that have been present for many years as both of these folks have long tenures.

We still have nearly $600,000.00 in the budget for contingency funds that tax payers are expected to raise that won't  likely be used this year in all.  I don't feel the recommended 3% is any more vital that the other material weaknesses pointed out in the audit.

It would be well to note that the audit includes revenues of $37,886,440.00 which is the nutrition dollars and the grants that are available.  Over four million more dollars other than the budget.

There is another reason to consider free and reduced lunch paperwork, because that paperwork can provide eligibility for other grant funds such as those that pay up to 40% of communication costs for school systems.

I managed large volunteer networks in my past employment and am aware that they can sign agreements and be trained and supervised as any employee would be.  They can also be included in the insurance of the district.  I am saddened that volunteerism is so discouraged in our district.

There is no quick fix and the uncertainty of withdrawal, which has now been proven to save no money going forward and will likely cost more and provide fewer options for our children in the future, may happen one way or another because folks have thrived on pointing fingers at each other to the level that there is no tolerance left.

I am tired of the work on the sink when the refrigerator is broken.  When we point fingers three are pointed back at us.  We need to ask the employees how to save money in their areas and hold them accountable.  Other districts are doing it.

We need far better information for the board. The Six new buses needed for a one bus run on this side is a comment and not a real study.

Special needs in our district is $6.8 million dollars.  About 2 million comes out of additional local share.  I wonder is the board is seeing financials regularly for this very expensive piece of our budget.

We may withdraw and we may pass this outrageous budget but we wont' fix the problem of accountability, communication and lack of future plans.

I understand folks being tired of the two year hassle and the blaming.  The other side of the river has been blamed and maimed.  When they are no longer there, and it is already starting, we can blame the kids and the parents and the public and the staff and of course the state.

We all have a piece and it isn't easy.

Please vote no on this budget and let the administration know that the taxpayers have had enough.  We want costs adjusted and we want a transparent budget that follows our policies for class sizes.  Let's consolidate and do what it takes to become efficient and focused on the education of children instead of blaming.

Joyce C. Scott



Posted by: Christopher Hyk | May 30, 2014 15:41

It is interesting that none of the local media has made mention of the departure of both the Principal at BAHS and the Searsport High School Principal. This was announced  on Tuesday at the School Board Meeting and it might have been pertinent for local residents who might have considered coming to the vote on Thursday.

RSU 20 is grossly over staffed, under enrolled and operating far too many buildings. This over inflated Budget grants almost every wish to every employee of RSU 20, no cuts of any consequence have been made and the resulting mill rate hike in every municipality  will be devastating. I urge the voters of RSU 20 to defeat this Budget at the Polls in June and force the School Board to present a Budget that is fair, well considered and equitable.

Christopher Hyk



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Tanya Mitchell
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Tanya has been a general news reporter in Waldo County since 1997.

 

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