A small group of voters May 22 breezed through a preliminary vote on the Regional School Unit 71 budget, making no changes to figures presented by the district's Board of Directors.

The $27.2 million bottom line is up 2.5 percent from the current year, owing largely to increases in salaries and benefits. That figure takes into account $2 million in savings from last year, of which $1.5 million will go to offset the budget in the coming year.

The balance, pending voter approval, would be put in an account for future capital construction and maintenance projects, including a future overhaul of the Tri-town Ames and Weymouth schools.

RSU 71 has 1,589 students, which roughly translates to an annual cost of $17,000 per pupil. However, Superintendent Paul Knowles was quick to say that the per-pupil average is not a good yardstick.

"What people like to do is take the number of students and divide it by the (total) budget, but that's not an accurate measurement, he said. "Some students cost more than others … Some cost you $10,000 and some cost $100,000. So, it's skewed."

Knowles said he gauges year-to-year progress using figures on the state's annual ED 279 report, which provides a more detailed breakdown of costs. The report also gives the amount of state funding districts will receive.

As of May 23, the current the ED 279, which requires the Legislature's approval of a state budget, was not yet available.

Knowles said roughly 30 voters attended the public budget meeting. Support for the budget was overwhelming but not unanimous, none of the draft numbers were amended and the meeting was done in less than 30 minutes, he said.

The budget is subject to a final referendum vote June 13 in the five RSU 71 towns — Belfast, Belmont, Morrill, Searsmont and Swanville.