At the close of the regular meeting at Belfast Area High School Tuesday night, May 8, the Regional School Unit 20 Board of Directors approved a $33.4 million budget proposal that will go before voters in the coming weeks.

After a lengthy discussion that included teaching staff, parents, taxpayers and later in the meeting, the directors themselves, the board adopted a proposal for fiscal year 2012-13 totaling $33,367,745.

The vote, however, was not unanimous. Directors Alan Wood, Gerry Reid, Percy King, Denise Dakin, Twyler Webster, Jean Dube, Tony Bagley, Debora Riley, Chris Krause, Dorothy Odell, Dean Anderson, Charles Poirier and Darren Philbrick lent their support to the package, while Directors Valerie Mank, Orya Shomron, Stephen Hopkins, Alexa Schweikert and Stephanie Wade opposed the motion.

Prior to the vote on the budget amount, directors took another vote to approve the use of $600,000 from the district’s cash-on-hand reserves. Superintendent Bruce Mailloux explained that amount would be applied to address “citizen concerns” surrounding the proposed reduction of eight teaching positions and the pitch to move students at Stockton Springs Elementary School to Searsport Elementary.

“This will not result in any additional increase in local funds,” said Dube after making the motion to carry over that sum.

Mailloux said administrators and directors have heard the public “loud and clear” since the May 1 budget workshop, at which time directors discussed, among other proposed reductions, the possible elimination of five elementary level teaching positions and two more from BAHS. The BAHS positions at stake were in addition to a third full-time teaching position that was not funded in the original draft budget, which totaled $34.2 million. Directors also considered the move of SSES students to Searsport at the budget workshop.

In the week since the budget workshop, Mailloux said Central Office staff and directors have heard from a number of residents who were unhappy about the proposed reductions in teaching staff, particularly at the elementary level, as well as the SSES move.

Mailloux said he recently learned the district cannot legally move all the students out of SSES without first undergoing the school closure procedure, a situation that the board was not aware of until consulting with district attorneys with Drummond and Woodsum Friday, May 4.

“There has to be instruction going on there,” said Mailloux.

Originally, the idea was to move Stockton Springs Elementary students to Searsport Elementary School and retain ownership of the school building in the event the board decided the district had an educational use for it. If not, the board would have then moved to officially close the school using the parameters set in state law.

But as Mailloux said at Tuesday night’s meeting, there is still a chance SSES could be considered for closure in the future, and some grade levels may still be transferred to the Searsport school.

“From the beginning the intention was to close the Stockton school. That’s still the intent of the board,” said Mailloux, noting that the subject would likely come up soon and that the closure process “has to be done right.”

In terms of the $600,000 carryover, Mailloux said those funds had been built over the last several years since the former SAD 34 recovered from a deficit that was in excess of $900,000. During the budget crisis, Mailloux said, there was a time when the district did not have enough funds to cover payroll.

“I swore then we’d never go back to that as long as I’m here,” said Mailloux.

Since then, Mailloux said the district has set money aside each year and as a result, the RSU has not had to borrow money to make payroll in the first part of the fiscal year, which some districts must do at that time of year because municipalities are just getting tax bills out to residents.

“We’ve been able to build up that cash-on-hand and now we’re in a stable financial position, as far as cash flow,” he said.

As an added effort to carry over more funds to the 2012-13 budget year, Mailloux recommended freezing the expenditure budget through the end of the current fiscal year.

Director Reid reminded the public that there would still be an average cost increase for the nine towns of about 7 percent.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, 12 people addressed the board, and all expressed opposition to cuts to the teaching staff, especially elementary school teachers.

Former SAD 34 Director and Belfast City Councilor Eric Sanders, who addressed the board as a local taxpayer, was one of those who discouraged cutting teachers.

“Bruce Mailloux, God love him, has been telling us every year is a cliff year since I’d been on the board,” he said. “… This is a cliff year, but don’t jump over the cliff. Just jump over the ditch.”

Sanders asked directors to “put the interest of the children of the school district first,” and stated increasing class sizes to bring back a zero-increase budget “is not my idea of success.”

“I would absorb a property tax increase so the kids get an education,” he said “I’m here to tell you I support you focusing on the students’ educational needs, and not the cities’ and towns’ economic worries.”

Prior to the board decision regarding the use of the $600,000, Director Shomron moved to amend Dube’s motion to reinstate two teaching positions at BAHS and fund a grant writer to help bring more funding for the district. Shomron’s amendment received a second from Wade, but after some discussion, Shomron opted to withdraw his motion and bring it up again when directors voted on the full budget amount.

Shomron’s amendment the second time around included adding $100,000 to the $600,000 already being carried into the 2012-13 budget, which he said should be used to retain the two BAHS positions.

Reid stated he felt the amendment might not be warranted because many positions could likely be saved with the $600,000, but how many has yet to be determined.

“We’re making motions to bring back specific things,” he said. “… Maybe we’re just adding on top of adding on top of adding.”

Bagley had a different take on the issue.

“This board needs to stop micro-managing the administration,” he said. “That’s why we’ve got nothing done for the last three years. Now stop telling these people how to do their jobs and vote on a budget, yes or no.”

Philbrook moved to cease debate, a motion that passed handily, and Shomron’s amendment was defeated.

Wade, who has not been present at recent meetings, asked if there was any way to prevent any of the proposed cuts at this point in time.

“At this point in time, having been through this process meeting after meeting, I would have to say no.”