State funding proves troublesome as district prepares budget

By Ben Holbrook | Apr 19, 2017

Searsport — Administrators and directors in Regional School Unit 20 are plugging away at next year's budget while grappling with less state aid that, unless additional funding is provided, might result in personnel cuts.

Superintendent Chris Downing said April 12 he intends to present more solid budget figures at the board's next meeting later this month. He said he is working to craft a budget with an increase of about 3 percent to 4 percent. But with a projected reduction in state aid, he said the district might need to consider letting some personnel go, though he did not specify which positions could be targeted.

“We can't keep absorbing state subsidy losses,” Downing said.

As state aid decreases, local taxpayers are forced to shoulder more of the cost to operate the schools — a fact that frustrated directors present at the meeting. Director Denise Dakin even suggested the district should draft a letter inviting state representatives into the schools to see how funding reductions impact education.

Chairman Tony Bagley noted the state's essential programs and services formula, which determines how much state aid a district receives, favors larger, more urban districts while leaving smaller districts, such as RSU 20, to pick up a larger chunk of the tab.

Voters by a significant margin voted recently to close Stockton Springs Elementary School. That move is expected to save the district close to $70,000 a year.

Directors are likely to vote on adopting the 2017-18 budget early in May.

Stockton Springs weighing school options

In the wake of residents' concerns about taxes, Stockton Springs officials are exploring their school options, including a possible district switch.

"As a result, the Select Board is doing their due diligence and is gathering information from both RSU 20 and RSU 25 with the understanding that the ultimate decision rests with the citizens of Stockton Springs," Town Manager Courtney O'Donnell said in a statement emailed to The Republican Journal.

RSU 25 currently serves Bucksport, Orland, Prospect and Verona Island.

A special Select Board meeting is scheduled for May 25 at 6 p.m. in the town office to discuss the matter. Residents are encouraged to attend to get answers to their questions and learn more.

The meeting is informational only and no action will be taken.

About two years ago the town voted to drop its withdrawal effort, following a committee recommendation to remain part of RSU 20. At that time, the town considered joining RSU 25 and also looked at charter school options.

In other business:

Directors certified the results of the April 11 referendum to close Stockton Springs Elementary School. Residents in the two towns voted 156 in favor to 46 opposed to close the largely unused building. No further action was taken regarding future use of the building.

A second-year probationary contract for Stacey White, a special education teacher, was approved.

Directors went into executive session to discuss labor contract negotiations. No action was taken following that session.

The next board meeting is scheduled for April 25 in Stockton Springs.

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