2014-07-10 / News

Revised budget up for vote next week

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

OLD ORCHARD BEACH – Residents will vote on a revised school budget next week after the June 10 referendum failed by only 24 votes.

A special election will be held Tuesday, July 15, when voters will be asked to approve a $12.3 million school budget. According to town Finance Director Diana Asanza, the amount the town would need to appropriate towards the school budget, if approved by voters, is $11.1 million. The appropriation includes $11,047,977 for the K-12 budget and $114,800 for the town’s share of the Saco-Old Orchard Beach adult education program. The remainder of the school budget would be funded with state and federal subsidies.

The revised budget represents a reduction of $208,093 from the previously proposed $12.5 million budget. School officials hope that the new budget will allay residents’ concerns about rising property taxes and garner enough votes for passage.

Lloyd Crocker, superintendent of Regional School Unit 23, said, “I don’t want to sound overconfident, but we’re hoping that this will be viewed as a real good effort on our part.”

Old Orchard Beach is the only municipality remaining in RSU 23 after the withdrawals of Dayton and Saco from the school unit became effective July 1. The school district still operates as an RSU however and, unlike municipal school administrative units, RSUs must hold a regional school budget meeting where any registered voter may vote on the school budget that will ultimately be placed on a referendum ballot to be voted on again.

“In an RSU, people get to vote on the school budget twice,” said Gary Curtis, chairman of the RSU 23 school board. “They get to vote at the regional school budget meeting and then again on the ballot.”

Crocker said 40 residents showed up at the June 30 regional school budget meeting to vote othe proposed school budget, and that all articles passed by a vote of 38 to 2. The changes were proposed by a transition team consisting of Old Orchard Beach’s two voting members of the old RSU 23 school board and three members who were elected to assume a position on the school board once the withdrawals of Dayton and Saco from the RSU were to become effective July 1.

“It was a good turnout,” said Crocker, “but it means nothing if we can’t get a referendum passed.”

The municipality has nearly 7,000 registered voters, according to the secretary of state’s website.

Crocker said the additional reductions were achieved by reducing the budgets of all three of the town’s schools, the transportation department, and contingency fund and through negotiations with the town’s teachers.

Old Orchard Beach High School’s budget was cut by $65,247.86, Loranger Middle School by $63,020.05, and Jameson School by $25,825.70. The contingency fund was reduced by $25,000 and the transportation budget by $13,000. The board of education’s budget was also reduced by $10,000, because Crocker said the original auditing costs for the district had been estimated for a district that contained all three municipalities and administrators caught the error.

The $6,000 reductions in costs for teachers were achieved, said Crocker, by decreasing the amount the district spends on substitute teachers and from savings that could be found by replacing retiring higher-salaried teachers with less-experienced teachers that work on a lower pay scale.

Even with the reductions, the new budget, if passed, would result in an increase of $1.10 to the mil rate, said Asanzi. Along with the eight-cent increase to the mil rate due to the city budget, the combined increase of $1.18 would bring the total mil rate to $14.99 per $1,000 of real estate valuation, she added.

Curtis said the increase is equivalent to where Old Orchard Beach’s school budget would likely have been had it never joined the RSU in the first place.

“The increase we’re having – if we never joined the RSU, itwouldbewhereweare–itwouldtranslatetoa2percent increase per year,” Curtis said.

“We didn’t do a good enough job explaining why, as a standalone, it is costing more. We have to start from scratch, build a new central office, and don’t get to participate in the economy of scale.”

Curtis said after the withdrawals, all three communities are spending about $1 million more than what was paid last year. Saco, he said, is paying about $700,000 and, in addition, that districts’ IT costs were shifted to the city side of the budget.

“This is not a thousand-whistles budget,” he added.

Although the first budget referendum failed, Curtis said,” I don’t think it was a mandate to slice and dice the school budget. I think people realize how we got to where we are. People now realize that this is going to be the new baseline. We’re not going to go back to $9 million.”

Curtis said when the state legislature passed a law requiring school districts to consolidate, the state used penalties instead of incentives to force consolidation.

“The idea of regionalization is a great idea, but this was the first time in my memory that major changes in school districts were made using a stick instead of a carrot,” Curtis said.

“This one was, ‘You join (a consolidated district) or you lose your subsidy.’”

Curtis said the law also failed to provide for a means for an RSU to dissolve, only for municipalities to withdraw. While Old Orchard Beach could choose to withdraw from RSU 23, Curtis said it would cost the town $40,000 and take two years for the town to negotiate withdrawal from itself. Since RSU budgets are voted on by the residents twice instead of approved by the town council, Curtis said the RSU is more effective in involving townspeople in the budget process.

“As it is now, it’s more democratic,” he said. Want to comment on this story? Login to our website at courier.mainelymediallc.com and let us know our thoughts.

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