Franklin Countys First News

Mt. Blue budget set, 500-plus turn out to meeting

Residents vote in favor of Article 1 with their pink cards, as moderator Ron Aseltine at right demonstrates.

FARMINGTON – Voters overwhelmingly approved a $33.6 million budget at a budget meeting attended by more than 500 people Wednesday evening, setting up a fourth validation referendum vote in all 10 towns on Oct. 24.

The vote was held in the gymnasium, rather than the Mt. Blue Campus' auditorium. Twenty minutes after the meeting was due to begin, school officials began opening up additional sections of the bleachers to accommodate a line of would-be voters that stretched out of the gym and down the hallway. A total of 521 voters were tallied prior to the first vote, Question 1: Regular Instruction, which passed as recommended by an overwhelming majority.

The turnout exceeded even the previous budget meeting, which had 300 voters in attendance. That meeting resulted in approximately $980,000 in reductions to the school board's recommended budget. The ensuing $32.6 million budget was defeated at the Sept. 12 validation vote by nearly 1,300 votes.

At Wednesday's meeting, voters approved the board's proposed $33,637,093 budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year. If validated on Oct. 24, the budget would represent a 2.71 percent increase over the previous fiscal year. It would result in more than a 2 percent decrease in local property tax assessments as compared to the previous fiscal year, or $267,444 less.

School board Chair Jennifer Zweig-Hebert and Special Education Director Christine Gatto-Shea gave brief presentations prior to the meeting. Zweig-Hebert said that the budget accommodated a 3.6 percent increase in student enrollment but still included a 2.06 percent decrease in the local property tax assessments as compared to the previous fiscal year. Property tax assessments for the school district across the 10 towns have declined $540,000 since 2015. The budget did include compromises, she said, detailing needs that were not met by the budget, including additional social worker positions and teaching positions.

“This budget is tight. But it should be tight. There should not be waste," Zweig-Hebert said.

Residents line up to check in with their town clerks.

Gatto-Shea said that the district had 389 students receiving special education services, ranging from speech and language assistance to out-of-district placements. The district paid less than the state average per student, she said, citing several districts with higher, per-student costs.

The meeting started at approximately 7:30 p.m., with a line of voters stretching down the hall waiting to enter the building and check in with their town’s ballot clerks. The meeting itself proceeded relatively quickly, with a few speakers questioning certain increases and decreases in the budget, or expressing support for specific programs. Questions included the availability of Foster Technology Center courses for students, the private/public funding of athletic programs, the feasibility of vans versus buses and the status of the district’s dual diploma program with a Beijing school.

Glenn Kapiloff, the current Adult Ed director and former Foster Tech director, said that the district tried to make slots available to students. Superintendent Thomas Ward said that the district had purchased a small bus for routes with sparser stops, while Director Angela LeClair of Wilton detailed how the sports boosters program interacted with the school. The dual diploma program, which would share the district's curriculum, standards and graduation requirements with Beijing No. 2 school in Beijing, China for its International program students, had been approved in China, Ward said.

Elaine Graham of Farmington said that administrator salaries were too high in the district. "If you care so much about the student, why do we need over $100,000 salaries for the top people?" she said. "If you truly care about people you wouldn’t take such a big slice of the pie."

Other residents expressed support for the district administrators. Siiri Stinson of Wilton said that she was grateful for the staff's work on a budget process that has lasted several months. She singled out the business manager, Kris Pottle, as someone whose expertise Stinson said was sometimes taken for granted. After Stinson finished speaking, residents had a standing ovation for Pottle.

Starks Selectman Paul Frederic said that one of his proudest moments had been helping orchestrate the change of school districts from MSAD 59 to RSU 9. "It has been a very successful transfer as far as the town of Starks is concerned," Frederic said, noting that his town typically supported the district’s budgets by a wide margin. "I hope the citizens of the other nine towns can appreciate how great this district is."

Following several near-unanimous votes, residents successfully moved to take up the remaining six cost center articles in a block. Voters then moved swiftly through the funding articles, completing the voting portion of the meeting in a little over an hour.

Just before the final written ballot, Jonathan Cohen of Farmington said that he agreed with Graham that the system of school funding was unfair to residents on fixed incomes. It was important that voters not only attend the Oct. 24 validation vote, Cohen said, but also lobby their legislators to increase district funding at the state level.

The $33.6 million budget now proceeds to a validation referendum vote on Oct. 24 in all 10 towns. A 'yes' vote approves the budget, while a 'no' vote effectively restarts the process.

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83 Responses »

  1. For Comparisons....Augusta Public Schools is comprised of 6 schools and their student population is almost the same as RSU 9, so I think it is a fair comparison. At least Augusta school officials are wise enough to know that when you hire someone for a position they have never held before (like their superintendent) you don't give them a starting salary that is more than the experienced person he is replacing. They were prudent enough to require that he first prove himself. Their situation also provides further support to the fact that the length of time in service as a superintendent is not a reliable indicator of someone's management skills.

  2. c warren-

    The opponents to the budget have stated that the tax burden is their reason for not supporting the schools current working budget. So, once it has become common knowledge that the RSU 9 budget will not be the cause of increased property taxes you begin to see the adversaries distract and shift the discussion:

    "First of all lets stop talking taxes."

    Also, your missing some logic when you say:

    It does not make any difference which pocket the money comes from,

    That statement fails to recognize that the local portion comes directly from property owners. Where as, State contributions include taxes from renter contributions in their sales and income taxes. Or, the revenue that is realized from tourists entering our State.

    Sorry to hear that your employment has not given you a merit raise in the last year or two. I can understand where that may leave you angry and dismayed. But, perhaps your anger is being misdirected at other hard working community members and would be better directed at your employer?

  3. In sharp contrast to Augusta Public Schools however, is their booming economy and large tax base compared to the RSU 9 area.

  4. @amanda

    "The inability to decipher text due to poor grammar says more about the readers intelligence than the authors."

    I was wondering who would try to make that point. Unfortunately, I actually said "difficult", not "impossible". Why should I waste my time deciphering that kind of post? Without punctuation - I could twist it to mean just about anything. The "he's not stupid, you are" approach in defense of bad writing skills is amusing (especially when that's not what I said). Did any of your teachers accept that reasoning? It's odd how people glorify and defend a lack of academic skills - instead of encouraging people to work on those skills. A helpful tip is that the average sentence is 15-25 words. One thought = one sentence.

  5. Lindy: Yes, great for Augusta to be"booming", also great to have continued state support for education. Those people who voted "Yes" on question 2, and "Yes" to fund at 55% across the state certainly knew what they were doing to put pressure on our legislatures and caring governor, to fund education.

    Did you know we receive more than 55% funding because of our socioeconomic status? And would receive even more funding, if Question 2 were fully implemented? We will all need to keep up support for our legislators to fully fund education.....

  6. To cwarren: The bottom line is that a significant number of townspeople showed up and VOTED to overwhelmingly in favor of this budget, so if you who are one of those who will continue to "whine" about it, you may need to prepare yourself soon to accept the will of the people and move on. Otherwise that same door you offered to whining teachers is always open to you too, and YOU too can leave at any time.

  7. Hopefully this budget will fail again. These people need to cut cut cut and not cave into these overly self-important "educators" and focus on actual EDUCATION!!!

  8. Democracy at work! If you get enough people together in one room and have them vote for your cause, then you win. I was at the meeting and saw the 500+ yes votes and the 10 or less no votes on everything. Last time it worked for the no's and was not validated (by a huge margin) by the general public, let's see how this one works out. The bottom line is the majority rules, and that is really the fairest way to run this crappy system. I work in the system and love the kids like they were my own. I don't want anyone thrown out of their homes because of financial means. I dam sure will vote/lobby/provide for my kids the best I can, majority rules.

  9. Guppy,

    Screen name or aliases show how weak one is.

  10. On salaries - we really need to pay our teachers and ed techs more. Anyone who says they are overpaid simply is out of touch with reality. I'll fight to make sure our teachers and ed techs get a competitive salary. The effort to create "wage envy" against highly trained professionals responsible for one of the most important jobs in society - educating our youth - is disgusting. Teachers get paid far less than they deserve given the work and effort they undertake. Our teachers are paid below average for the region, especially if they have been here awhile. Those wanting teachers to earn less or reject raises should be ashamed of themselves. Wage envy is an ugly thing.

    On taxes - if we get state and federal money, that money is mostly from wealthier parts of the state in a very justified effort to shift some of the burden from poorer regions to wealthier ones. That's because it would be inherently unfair to have top notch education in wealthy areas and bare bones 'no frivialities' education in poor areas. That would be to give a structural advantage to kids in richer areas, so the rich get richer and the poor stay poor. The best way to improve the economic health of our district is through quality education with an eye on the future. To the extent that we can avoid burdening our property tax payers, and have money shift to us from wealthier areas, I'm all for it! All taxes are not the same!

  11. @linnie you must be an employee or a supporter of ward. While it's true anyone can choose to leave, your response to C. Warren suggests you would like to see those that don't want a higher school budget to move on. Curious will you feel the same when picking up more of the tab?
    All the ignorant "backbiting" is counterproductive. Would like to see actual, realistic suggestions to give the kiddos a quality education without breaking the bank.

  12. Two steps forward, one step back. We keep raising the budget (for example, by 2.71%), but don't worry because we'll get about a 2% decrease in property taxes. So, we'll continue to live beyond our means, and then expect someone else pay for the increase, the "richer" parts of the state. For the younger generation out there, this is not a responsible practice. And for what? An education from "highly trained professionals" which produces students who largely are below the state average in at least two important categories. The public school system is failing for many reasons, and throwing more and more money at it will not change anything.

  13. Linnie:
    You missed my point. It does seem however you are an employee of the district. To me it makes no difference.
    If you are here, and your unhappy about the wages or the way you are treated then why stay? I never said I was against this budget, just stating some facts that are being ignored.

  14. @Matthew Billian... I so agree with you! The Sun Journal started requiring names and the whole internet snarky went away. Thanks for posting.

  15. So why do you need a person's name? So you can go after them, their home, their family? Work at the school and want to take it out on the kids? Did you once stop to think some of the aliases or nicknames are used because they work for or around the school and do not want a hostile environment? Interesting your so worried about a name, but good for you if it distracts people from the real issues and concerns....

  16. @Matt Billian,

    You and I have not agreed on much on the Daily Bulldog as of late, and we both agree on the importance of people using their actual names and owning their positions.

    I'm hoping that you would level that same pointed criticism -- characterizing someone as "weak" for using a pseudonym here -- at those with whom you agree.

    I'd like to see "Guppy" using their real name -- as I would like to see happening with all commenters here -- it makes it so much more difficult to have a real conversation when you are going back and forth with someone named, "Yes," or "Fed Up," or, "DingleToots McWinterbean."

    This community needs all of us to step up and be better humans to one another.

  17. C. Warren, I keep getting asked if I am the C. Warren writing in The Bulldog. I'm not, I would have used "DingleToots McWinterbean."

  18. Boy oh boy this is like beating a dead horse. It's the same people complaining about the same stuff in these articles. What's that going to help? What will matter is who shows up to vote NO!

  19. I agree that it was irresponsible to increase the school budget by 2.71% which is above what anyone is getting for a raise. I don't know how our school committee members do not take this into consideration. We are extremely lucky that social security is getting a 2% increase next year. That means that I am falling 0.71% behind.
    Does anyone care?
    I am all in favor of good schools.
    I believe we could have had both with a 2% increase. One only has to look outside the box a little for solutions.

  20. Susie, I hate to tell you this, but you are going to fall the full 2.71% behind. Social Security is going up 2% in 2018, but all of the recipients are being forced to have their entire increase go to paying for Medicare Part B. So in reality, Social Security recipients are going to get another ZERO increase in disposable income in 2018. I'm sure that RSU9 budget yes voters are not taking this into account. Most people believe that Social Security recipients will actually receive an increase nest year, but in actuality there will be NO increase, because Medicare Part B will suck up every extra dollar.

  21. Susie - most of the increase is not a choice by the school board, but required additional spending. Luckily, we are getting reimbursed for most of it meaning that the board is actually asking for LESS property tax than last year - in fact, $545,000 less the last two years. So you are not falling behind! The economy has been doing well and people are getting raises. Unfortunately the current people in power support policies that put most of the economic growth in the hands of the already wealthy, meaning average folk still fall behind. One should look at the big money running the system for the villain, not a school board struggling to balances diverse interests!

  22. Every voter that voted "YES" last time, that was to cut back or flat fund the budget, needs to vote 'NO" this time AND bring at least one more 'NO" voter with you that didn't vote last time. This school budget and the people that create it are going to ruin these communities if they are allowed to continue! When more than 50% of the tax dollar goes for the education that the kids aren't getting, somethings seriously wrong!

  23. Question; On Election Day, why do we vote "in a booth"?
    Why not be forced to publicly announce who you voted for?

    Answer; We are allowed to vote "in secret" to protect us from those who would harass, intimidate and even harm us or our families because of what we believe.

    It's a shame (but no surprise) some people are insisting the bulldog require names before giving your opinion on here.
    What's next,,, you waiting for me in the voting booth holding the pen?

    Looks like good old fashion thuggery to me.
    Thankful that the Bulldog "gets it".
    If you don't like it, feel free to read elsewhere.

  24. @Guppy, I never said you were stupid, that it's your interpretation of my comment. The fact that someone doesn't use proper rhetoric should not negate their opinion. Judging (or disregarding) people based on minor details leaves YOU limited to the reception of new information.

    "Without punctuation - I could twist it to mean just about anything." I fail to see how John's lack of punctuation changes his message.

    My apologies to all for allowing myself to be dragged into the petty distraction from the budget debate.

  25. Home school and give your kids a real education

  26. For all of you who think a good education is vital to maintain our local community, think again. The students that do well in school and go on to get a higher education are going to leave the state where serious money can be made. Those who decide to stay in the area are doing so to be near families. Therefore, we are left with those making less money to bare the burden of this overpaid school system.

  27. To the fool.
    Agreed! Just like with the NEW homestead property tax exemption, the state raises it 5000$ to 20,000$ and the towns raise property valuations ! At least my town did. Crooks all of em.

  28. We all know there are ways to save a little money in the school budget.
    A perfect example is when you hire a new administrator.
    Instead of hiring a new administrator for 10,000 less than we have paid a veteran administrator, this school district offered the new employee a $5,000 dollar increase.
    This is but one example of thinking outside the box.
    Thank you

  29. Scott, as you know teachers' salaries and the way the salary of the teacher is arrived at has been subject of debate for years. It is given that teachers deserve more pay. BUT THAT IS ONLY SOME OF THEM. Thanks to the teachers' union, all teachers are looked upon as equal, thus they all get the same pay, raise, benefit etc. Some of them shouldn't be in the classroom.Administration has three years to evaluate and in that time should know whether the employee is a "teacher" or not.Unfortunately, some slip through. AND those give the rest a bad name........... sometimes. You can't put a figure on the salary that the teacher should be paid who makes profound influences on a student who later on , because of that teacher becomes successful in his or her chosen field. "He/she sits behind the desk all period..." "He plays tapes or films in most classes, never teaches us..." "Figure it out for yourself..." all comments from Mt. Blue However, "I and a lot of my classmates want Mr.H. next tear for math because he STANDS up in class and teaches... and he helps if we get stuck on something..." MERIT PAY??? Higher test scores???

  30. With this remark, above, from professor Erb, you see a supporter of the agenda of the far left. he wrote "Unfortunately the current people in power support policies that put most of the economic growth in the hands of the already wealthy...." Public school systems in America are, in fact, socialist !

  31. Please, vote NO at the validation referendum on the 24th.

  32. Bill, you're trotting out weak political rhetoric. Socialism? Gee, I guess our military is socialist too, by your account. So is the police force and fire department. Sheesh. Socialism is NOT government providing basic services, it is government owning businesses and planning the economy, something very few people want because it failed so miserably in the 20th Century.

    I stated a fact I can prove - that relative wealth has shifted towards the very wealthy and away from the middle class. That isn't "far left," it's a FACT. The shift started around 1980 and corresponded with the massive growth in private and governmental debt that began in earnest around 1982. But really, if you're trotting out accusations of "socialism" and "far left" it shows you're caught up in a kind of political rhetoric game that has nothing to do with the school budget. It shows that you can't win the arguments talking about the budget so you turn to silly inflammatory rhetoric of "left and socialism" to hide your lack of argument.

    I urge people to attend board meetings during the year, especially when budget deliberations start in January. Learn about what is really happening. I think most people realize that the board has asked for less money from property tax payers the last two years, has made cuts, and avoided new costly programs - something we get criticized for by people who think the board spends too little. We're in this together, it's not left vs. right or anything like that, it's a pragmatic discussion of how to spend and where to spend. I'm glad the community has become more fully engaged in this, I think that will make the schools and the community stronger.

  33. There are those who feast on anger. Be ye one who is moved by love.