RSU 20 residents lend support to $33.4M budgetDistrict voters to weigh in at polls June 12
Belfast — Following a two-hour budget validation meeting Tuesday night, voters approved a package totaling $33,367,745, and despite several attempts at amending a few budget lines, the proposal passed as presented.
The meeting, which was held at Troy Howard Middle School, is the first of two steps for gaining voter approval for the 2012-13 budget. The second phase of the adoption process is set for Tuesday, June 12, when residents in the nine district towns will have their say at the polls.
About 80 residents attended the meeting and acted on 19 articles, which represented various lines in the budget proposal.
Residents sought to amend the budget proposal right out of the gate, just after Moderator Lee Woodward called the meeting to order and called for a motion on Article 1, which called for acceptance of a $12,262,206 appropriation under the regular instruction line.
One resident, who identified herself as a parent of students at the Drinkwater School in Northport, made a motion to amend the article by adding $35,000 back into that portion of the budget. The woman stated she would like to see the additional amount used to cover the cost of an educational technician III, in the hopes it would prevent the moving of Drinkwater third-graders to the Captain Albert Stevens School in Belfast this fall, and instead create a combination classroom consisting of third- and fourth-graders.
"We're dealing here with money, we're not dealing with internal policy or what the money is spent for," explained Woodward.
While some voters seemed to find the amendment acceptable, others expressed concern that it was the first in several steps that might lead to a higher overall budget, and by extension, higher taxes.
Belfast resident Amy Fradel said she had attended many of the school board meetings over the last year and felt all of the budget issues had been discussed thoroughly in recent months.
"I think it's really out of line to consider numerous cuts that have already been made," she said.
Frankfort resident Gabe Baker said he would support "keeping the third grade in the community as long as possible."
Other voters expressed concern that the moving of Drinkwater third-graders would mean some siblings would be attending two different schools.
After some additional discussion, the amendment was defeated and residents approved Article 1 as presented.
Residents passed Articles 1-6, which were articles that dealt with special education, career and technical education, extra- and co-curricular expenses, student and staff support and system administration, without any motions for amendments..
When Woodward called for a motion to approve Article 7, which includes principals' salaries, Searsmont resident Deb McIntyre sought clarification about proposed salary increases under that line.
"I think I understand the staff has not had an increase?" she said.
RSU 20 Superintendent Bruce Mailloux said the budget proposal calls for a 2.5 percent pay increase for principals, which is the same increase that is budgeted for teachers when a teacher contract is finalized.
"And that's subject to negotiations," said Mailloux.
RSU 20 teachers have been working under an expired contract since August of 2010, and while negotiations have been ongoing, they have stalled over the last 18 months. Last spring, the dispute went to a fact-finding panel that was appointed by the Maine Labor Relations Board, and despite the release of a fact-finding report and board response that was issued in the fall of 2011, the contract situation has yet to be resolved.
At that point a resident moved to amend the article by reducing the proposed $1,886,746 amount by $36,000, or 2.5 percent.
Baker stated cutting principal salaries was not a good move because, "those building principals we're talking about are the conductors of our children's education."
"By cutting that line, it sends a message that we don't respect the job they do," said Baker, who encouraged those who felt teacher contracts should be finalized to urge the board to move in that direction instead of reducing pay increases for principals.
The man who moved for the amendment said he was not making any kind of statement regarding teacher contracts, and instead was looking out for the struggling taxpayers.
"That increase is a lot more than what people get in the private sector," he said.
After a few more minutes of discussion, residents defeated the amendment and approved the budget line as it was written.
Fradel called for another amendment when it came time to dispose of Article 11, which sought approval for a line that partially supports the district food service program. Article 11 sought approval for a $70,000 contribution to the program, which is also supported through food sales throughout the district.
Fradel made a motion to eliminate the $70,000 figure from the budget because she said the program "undermines parental control over what children eat." She also stated it should not be the district's responsibility to feed district children, and instead, it should be up to the parents to pack daily lunches for the students.
One woman disagreed with Fradel, stating she fully supported the food service program, even though she packs lunches for her own children, because she didn't want to see lunch prices increase as a result of the reduction proposed in Fradel's amendment.
"So there are parents who can't feed their kids, but we're going to ask them to spend more for lunches," she said. "... I think the food service program is the most important program we have."
RSU 20 Director Stephanie Wade said children who are hungry have a difficult time learning, and because of that, she did not support the amendment. Directors Alexa Schweikert and Orya Shomron agreed with Wade's position.
The amendment was eventually defeated, and voters adopted the original motion to cover the $70,000 contribution to the program.
The remainder of the articles passed as presented in the warrant, including the article seeking approval of the total $33.4 million proposal.