There was an awkward moment of silence before it became apparent that no members of the public wanted to speak at Regional School Unit 71’s virtual school budget hearing Aug. 4.

The original July 7 public hearing and July 14 referendum vote had to be rescheduled because of an error in Drummond Woodsum’s budget report, Superintendent Mary Alice McLean said.

The law firm made a $5,416,023.05 mistake in developing the referendum questions to be voted on. The figure was originally written as $10,092,756.66, but should have been $15,508,779.71. Had it not been caught, it would have created a large funding gap in this year’s school budget.

“If Question 1 were adopted as written, the RSU would have a significant revenue shortfall for the upcoming school year,” the firm wrote in a press release.

Other questions based on the figure had to be reworked. The law firm will refund the district's payment for developing that version of the referendum.

The budget developed earlier this year contained a 9.5% increase from last year's budget, but as the coronavirus took hold of the community, it became apparent that the district had to cut the budget to provide some relief for the local economy, according to McLean. The district was able to whittle the budget down to about a 0.1% increase.

The district has been approved for extra funding because of the coronavirus, but can only use the money for virus-related resources and expenses, not to offset the budget, the superintendent said. Voting on the school budget will take place Aug. 18.