An initial 2017-2018 draft budget for Regional School Unit 20 shows an increase of more than 6 percent.

Superintendent Chris Downing said March 9 the first draft of the budget he presented to directors is increasing by 6.6 percent, or $662,644 more than last year's budget. He said wages, benefits and a proposed day treatment program at the middle school/high school are the most significant factors driving the increase.

“Nothing is definite,” Downing said. “We wanted to put that (day treatment program) in there so that people could see what the effect would be.”

Also impacting the budget are insurance costs for the district, which Downing said he is anticipating could increase as much as 10 percent. That's about the average increase the district has seen in insurance costs in recent years as the increases have ranged between 8 percent and 13 percent.

In an effort to offset some district costs, officials are looking at closing Stockton Springs Elementary School, which houses RSU 20's pre-Kindergarten program. Closing the school, which will require a vote later this spring, will save some money, Downing said, because the district will be making its final debt service payment.

Those savings could increase in future years once the district disposes of the building. Until that time, Downing said RSU 20 must continue paying costs associated with maintaining the school.

If residents in Searsport and Stockton Springs vote to keep the school open, the towns will be responsible for the additional cost to do so, the superintendent noted.

Administrators are also considering restructuring the district's curriculum to accommodate an alternative education program. When several towns, including Belfast, voted to leave RSU 20, the district lost access to Belfast Community Outreach Program in Education, an alternative learning center.

Downing said if the district chooses to create its own alternative education program, that program will use existing staff members.

Even as costs continue to rise, the district is facing a reduction in state subsidy — about $350,000 based on preliminary estimates. That figure could change depending on legislative action.

While RSU 20 wants to ensure its students receive a quality education, Downing said he also wants to present a budget that will have the least impact on Searsport and Stockton Springs taxpayers.

Several workshops are scheduled in the coming days and weeks for administrators and board members to continue refining the budget. That schedule is as follows:

Monday, March 13 – Technology and school budgets

Monday, March 20 – Food Service, Administration, Athletics

Monday, March 27 – Transportation and Facilities

Monday, April 3 – Special Education

All workshops are being held at the Central Office beginning at 6 p.m.