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. Looks like they got there way !!! Sad!!!

  2. @Poor man pete

    "Looks like they got there way !!! Sad!!!"


    The majority finally wised up to the needless destruction that was being advocated for our school system. It is sad when people can't understand that the school district is asking for less money from local taxes (as the article again explains). I'm sure a few math teachers would be happy to help...

  3. those who use the district should be the ones who pay and those who don't use the district should not pay .its only fair .....

  4. Guppy, the majority that you apparently thought were stupid until they ‘wised up’ were actually choked by the smoke and blinded by the mirrors. Scare tactics work, administrators should give themselves a big raise!

  5. Guppy three towns ARE seeing a tax increase !!! WABI TV 5 had a segment on the budget yesterday at 5am. Telling people that there is no tax increase is false. As I have said taxes aren't everyones concern but the folks that are shouldn't be called liars or be accused of spreading false information. This is FACT.

  6. Guppy
    I'm an accountant.. I know math pretty well. I work for a company in Franklin County plus do private work for people . The local business world don't like what's coming....I'm sorry you don't understand business and the private sector . This will be my last post, Good luck on paying taxes folks. Trust me from the accounting world you will sorry in a few years when this all catches up. God Bless you all..

  7. Jen Hebert NEVER spoke about how the taxes went down for residents because the HOMESTEAD EXEMPTION WENT UP. The whole board is shameless.

    Remarks from the people behind me were shameful. Selfish, self-serving...and you can bet the budget will strangle the tax payers next year.

  8. Going to vote no.

  9. Cougars are generally solitary by nature. However, when they do form in large groups they are called a PRIDE! Go Cougars!!!

    Also please remember what Dr. Jonathan Cohen reminded us near the end of the meeting. Those on fixed incomes do struggle and we all need to support them by directing community energy to have more funding coming from the State and less from local property taxes. The voters have been clear on this issue a number of times and it is high time we all descend upon Augusta with a unified voice. If the State of Maine can produce nice commercials for "spirits", lottery sales, ect... they can pony up even more money for our schools!

    We are on the last mile for this budget, please vote YES on October 24 to validate this budget.

  10. It's so frustrating to see adults feel as they need to put others down simply because they disagree with someone else's opion by point out spelling erras and implying they can't do math more of our young school children have been involved with this years school budget to watch and learn from us the ADULTS we tell them you can disagree with someone but still be respectful and not be a bully well this year we all as adults in this community have faild let's start showing our kids the right way and stop just telling them Leed by example their not going to do the right thing if they wach us act the wrong way please people our next generation needs us to keep leading in till its there turn to take over so don't just tell them how to act in situations show them

  11. Fact: Tax revenue requested by the district goes down in this budget by about 2%

    Fact: Town valuation affect each town's tax obligation

    Fact: Town valuations for tax allocation are determined by the State of Maine

    Fact: Individual town valuations go up, or down, or stay almost the same every year as determined by the State.

    Fact Tax revenue requests have gone down from the district for two years in a row.

    Jesse: fact check me on this please?

  12. Fact: The Board is asking for $545,000 LESS over the last two years than before. The school is asking for less taxes. That has nothing to do with any "homestead exemption," and is very real. If taxes went up, that is not because of the school board - again, the district is asking for LESS for the second year in a row from property tax payers.

    It was heartening to see so many people out in support of education, and understanding how hard we've worked to not ask for more tax dollars from property tax payers. That said, I do respect the efforts of those concerned about the budget. They made a difference, impacted the process, and made this an issue of discussion. That is welcome, and I hope their efforts continue. I also hope that those who feel the schools are under funded continue to make their voices heard. By listening to everyone we can hopefully balance the various interests.

    But again: it is a FACT that the schools have asked for less property tax money the last two years. if taxes went up, that is for some other reason.

  13. @John

    It's not bullying to point out errors in spelling or logic. Have you been reading all the comments from other articles and this one where people are incorrectly claiming that the school is directly responsible for all local taxes (they're not)? Its great to respect people, but incorrect information should be pointed out.

    @Jesse Sillanpaa

    "Telling people that there is no tax increase is false."

    That statement misinterprets the situation. There has been no tax increase caused by the school. They are asking for less money from local tax payers. It's not the schools responsibility to control police, firefighter, plowing, or other town costs.

    "you will sorry in a few years when this all catches up"
    "you can bet the budget will strangle the tax payers next year."

    I keep seeing these statements. Do you have a time machine? What factual numbers are you basing these doom and gloom prophecies on? If trends continue - the school will be asking for less from tax payers next year.

  14. I had to leave the meeting to prevent myself from losing my temper. I agree with John. I don't care how educated a person is and how much money they make. How they treat others says a lot about their character. I would much rather spend time with an uneducated person who is kind, considerate and has empathy and respect for others even if they disagree and are on opposite sides of an issue. Even more discouraging was hearing many adults in the audience laughing at the show and encouraging more of the disrespect. A fine example we are setting for our youth and still we wonder why the world is the way it is.😠

  15. Facts, figures, accuracy, math.... did anyone notice on the October 2017 budget summary in the +/- column that in 1 dist. wide instruc.,2dist. spec. services, 5 dist, health services,6 B O D ,8 trans., and 9 operatoin of plant that thenumbers are WRONG? CAN ANYONE UP THERE SUBTRACT? This might be a serious issue, because 5oo people were believing what this document said! AND many more didn't attend because they believed it! WHAT'S UP DOC?

  16. If the budget goes up another million next year it will come from taxpayers. The federal gov't is paying from TAXPAYERS!

    Fact: The budget is more than last year... = more tax money spent.. Property tax is not the only source or concern. Taxes should be...Why can't people understand that?

  17. Scott and Yes why can you not admit that Chesterville,Industry, and Starks ARE seeing increases in taxes due to the budget. It doesn't matter that you've asked $545,000 less in taxes or not (which is great)because three towns STILL have an increase in their taxes. Please fact check me with WABI TV 5 and the archives of the bulldog it was in the article about the budget prior to Sep. 5th meeting. Both state that these towns WILL see an increase DUE to the schools budget. Im not misinforming anyone, but if I'm wrong it is due to misinformation in the news articles
    I still would like to know how much the windmill at the High School actually offsets the electric bill. Scott Does the number of school board members for each town depend on the population? I'm wondering because I see Farmington has 5 and Wilton has 3 , and all the other towns have one.

  18. Jesse, waiting for the fact checks on my statements made, not yours. For school board vote allocation, its based on state law, one vote for each 18 people in the towns, so each school board rep has a weighted vote representing their town's population, or part of their towns population. :

    2. Method B: weighted votes. Under the method of representation referred to as "Method B," directors cast weighted votes.
    A. The reapportionment committee under section 1475 shall apportion 1,000 votes among all the members of the board. The ratio of the number of votes cast by the directors representing a municipality in relation to the number 1,000 must be the same ratio to the nearest whole number as the population of the municipality is in relation to the population of all municipalities in the regional school unit, as determined by the latest Federal Decennial Census or Federal Estimated Census.

    B. To ensure the use of whole numbers, the 1,000 votes apportioned among the board members may not be increased or decreased by more than 5 votes.

    C. A plan may not permit the voting power of any director to exceed by more than 5% the percentage of voting power the director would have if all 1,000 votes were apportioned equally among the directors.

    D. In a municipality served by 2 or more directors, the votes cast by them must be divided equally among them. The directors are elected at large within the municipality unless otherwise provided by municipal charter.

  19. It's amazing how many people equate coddling ignorance with "respect". It's more respectful to challenge ignorance, rather than assume a person incapable of learning. Also, people who live in glass houses should be wary of throwing stones. The school administrators are not an evil conspiracy out to get your money for personal greed - a very common personal attack in this debate.

    "To remove ignorance is an important branch of benevolence." - Ann Plato

  20. Jesse - if we ask for less money and the towns still increase taxes, there's nothing we can do about that. We can only reduce the property tax money we request. How towns set taxes is up to them, not the school district. We've asked for $545,000 less the last two years. As for the school board numbers, the votes are weighted to reflect the "one person one vote" principle. That means Farmington's votes count for whatever share of the population Farmington has in the district. Not sure about the windmill, that's a good question.

    steven - yes federal and state money also come from taxpayers. But unlike property taxes these come from income taxes, etc., that are not regressive and do not hit those with fixed incomes so hard. Given the demographics, this is really a transfer of money from wealthier parts of Maine to poorer rural districts. That is fair, I believe, since it will help our poorer districts compete with wealthier districts in giving quality education, so our children aren't disadvantaged. Thus I have no qualms about getting more state money; I do want to try to minimize what we ask of our property tax payers, since that is a regressive tax that hits fixed income folk the hardest.

  21. Yes you are correct as I am. It doesn't matter how the towns evaluation is determined the fact of the matter is that three towns are seeing an increase in taxes due to RSU 9 !!!! A simple yes or no answer would of been suffice for my question about the board members as I was just asking for clarification on what I wrote. Yes it is based on population.

  22. Glad to see a strong showing is support of our community and our students. The only disappointment from the meeting was when the special education director was asked if she had the resources needed for her department she replied "yes". I would disagree with that response. Having been in classrooms as a substitute I can say that there should be/needs to be more ed tec support in these classrooms or smaller class sizes which would mean an additional teacher. This is just my observation from being involved, there is disagreement take a day and spend it in one of these classrooms.

  23. Chickadee:

    What you say is totally false. There was no disrespect shown to anyone who made comments at the meeting - and that includes the person who kept making the same point over and over.

  24. augusta is bigger then our school district and yet their budget is only 29.4 million ,why is this ? its because they are not greedy .next year this budget will add another million or 2 but it seems no-one cares ,we are driving older folks out of their homes and driving others to decide to leave the area but the greedy people of the area still push for a higher budget .i still say let those who use the district pay for their use of the district and those of us that dont use it not pay .

  25. glad to see reason win out in the end. i'll always vote to fund education even if it inconveniences me. i don't know who would want to live in a community that doesn't value education over more "comfortable" tax policies.

  26. @woodsnut

    "i still say let those who use the district pay for their use of the district and those of us that dont use it not pay"

    Sounds workable. However, let's make sure you don't wrongfully benefit from something you're not paying for. In your scenario, no one educated by a public school system could assist you in any way. Will you wear a medical-alert bracelet stating this in case of a medical emergency? Will your house have a sign by the front door in case someone mistakenly calls for fire fighters or police without checking their educational background first? Shall the town leave the road in front of your house unplowed - unless they can find a home-schooled employee to do it? It might be tricky to always find a home-schooled cashier when shopping. Everyone benefits from the school district - whether you have kids or not.

  27. Thank you Scott I was just looking for clarification to the population per board member. I understand that it's not the boards fault how towns taxes are evaluated. I just want someone to acknowledge that there are tax increases due to what the schools budget is. As I have said before I dont mind mine going up a few dollars for Industys part of the budget but some folks obviously have a big problem hence our ongoing votes to pass one.

  28. Sillanpaa-

    I know this has been explained before, over and over. But, in case you missed it, please reflect on Dr. Erbs response before rephrasing the same question once again:

    Jesse - if we ask for less money and the towns still increase taxes, there's nothing we can do about that. We can only reduce the property tax money we request. How towns set taxes is up to them, not the school district. We've asked for $545,000 less the last two years.

  29. @ Woodnut. May I ask where you got your information from? I went on line did a bit of research. Augusta is 29.4 million. That is true but they are smaller not bigger then RSU 9. We have 186 more students enrolled and 2 more school then Augusta. Also take into account that RSU 9 is so spread out. I would believe our transportation cost are far greater. Find out the average cost per student by both schools. I believe you will find once again RSU 9 is less. It was nice to see the support last night. But someone did point out the rudeness. I saw that when one person chose to leave and some decided to clap. That was wrong they are entitled to their opinion whether we agree or not. I hope next year goes much smoother

  30. Guppy, could you please point out every grammatical error in every comment, or is that just saved for the ones you disagree with?
    John Carlson, I have said before, the district better come up with a different way to finance or not allow voting because it is very obvious to me that the upcoming years will be anything but much smoother.

  31. Woodnut is right regarding Augusta Public Schools......From the DOE website data...for 2015-16, which is the latest data. RSU 9 population 2337. Augusta Public Schools population 2286. That's 51 fewer students than RSU 9. Cost-per- student RSU 9 is $9616. Cost-per-student for Augusta is $8897. RSU 9 total budget for 2015-16 was $31.6 million. For Augusta Public Schools it was $25.4 million. One last fact. The superintendent for RSU 9 that year got $122,000. The superintendent for Augusta Public Schools got $115,460.

  32. John Carlson:

    I take issue with your characterization of rudeness at the meeting. In fact, a great deal of restraint was shown. I could argue that the two people who hogged the microphone most of the evening (and thus depriving others of speaking during the time-limited discussion) were the ones showing a remarkable disrespect for the patience of everyone else. No one, unlike at the last voting meeting, was shouted down or booed.

  33. @Norm:
    I was pleased with the responses from the school board, Administration and some of the teachers who spoke. The problem was some of the audience. Sarcasm and arrogance not to mention the snarky remarks I was overhearing from surrounding people in the bleachers. I found it appalling. Perhaps you were sitting in a different area... But I guess everyone perceives things differently so I guess we will have to agree to disagree.

  34. @billyjoebob

    "could you please point out every grammatical error in every comment"

    It's too much work if there's more than a comment or two. However, I'm glad to be of service when it's feasible ;)

  35. "The superintendent for RSU 9 that year got $122,000. The superintendent for Augusta Public Schools got $115,460."

    What shock and horror!!! The superintendent of a bigger school has a bigger salary. I guess much larger transportation costs and having more schools should just be ignored?

  36. People do realize that whether the Money comes from the State or the District it still comes from people's taxes right. State money doesn't just grow on trees no matter what your education taught you.

  37. Lindy: just curious, what is the experience level of the two superintendents you are comparing? Is he the one whose salary was just bumped to $120,000 per year, and had formerly been the principle at Cony HS? Since he was just promoted from interim suit. to superintendent , how many years experience as a superintendent does he have?

    Oh, and the referenced article lists Superintendent pay in Maine to range from $ 84,000 per year to $151,900 with an average of $116,000.

    Just curious.....

  38. I would like to thank Mr. Cohen for his very insightful and well-spoken point at last night's meeting that we need to remember the struggle people who are on fixed incomes have is real.We should be working together to see that the state lives up to the obligations people have voted for on two different referendums. We speak through our votes, just as the majority did last night at our budget meeting, so remember that at election time. I am sad we have people in our area who are having such a tough time, and I hope they are being helped by neighbors, friends, community services.

  39. @ guppy there is no harm in pointing out spelling erras if it ment in a helpful way but to imply that person is not educated please read your comment on this as it seems to me exspecaily the last part that you typed to that person pionting out the math issue that you were pokeing fun /belittle them can you honesty say to yourself you were not doing this as far as the math goes is the state /goverment going to pay the distric they same amount every year or will they up the amount they give every year to cover the increase coast to help keep town evaluation down but how long can they do that in till they have to raise the state or federal income tax to cover it and as we all know that this money does just not appear and that the state and goverment money comes from the tax payer no matter how you look at it one way or another your taxes will go up one eventually example the state of New Hampshire there is no sales tax a lot of People think this is great and it is if you don't live in that state and you buy something but look at there property tax it very high this is called the trickle down affect some how some way the tax payer will pay for things if you don't pay much for one thing than another coast a lot to make up the difference the town my look at it like well if tax doesn't go up in towns than we the town can ask for extra and it my be small and no one really noticed at some point new town budget's that have crept up and school budgets that have gone up but the state/goverment kicked in more to help Will some day colided and we will have huge state/ goverment and town tax to cover all at once and this Guppy is a fact I'm not saying I'm infavor or not just asking for people to lead by example for our youth not just tell them how to act but show them how to in a debate and a highly intense one at that

  40. On October 24th please vote NO on the budget referendum. Enough is enough !!!

  41. In the Daily Bulldog article it is stated the budget, if passed on Oct 24. Represents a 2.71 increase over the past fiscal year and Scott Erb states they have asked for $545,000 less over the past 2 years. So which is it? My math is not that good.

  42. Let's keep voting it down and try to flat fund it again. The whole system is a joke, people are having a difficult time to make ends meet but those liberals on the board don't care...its for the children.

  43. Great question Diane: Mr
    Erb said 545,000 less in the last two years from the ten towns/property taxes...easy to fact check, and its true!

  44. And to Lindy: That Augusta Superintendent: This will be his second, or third year as a superintendent, in 2013 he was a Cony....

    Pretty good pay for year 3...

  45. @John

    Sorry to have to say this (since pointing this stuff out seems to really bother you), but your post is one long run-on sentence. I gave up trying to make sense of it after the first three lines of unbroken text. I view this remark as "helpful" since you might be unaware that your run-on sentence style makes deciphering your posts quite difficult.

  46. Diane - the budget itself is higher due to new special ed costs, slightly higher salaries and other increases in operating expenses. However, the property tax payers of the district only pay about 37% of the budget. Because the state realizes these new Special Ed costs are difficult, we're getting reimbursed. We've also gotten grants and other state funds to cover other expenses.

    That means that although the budget is bigger, our request for money from property tax payers has gone down. This is because we choose to put a good chunk of state money towards property tax relief and NOT for new spending (even though we could have spent a good chunk of it on the schools). I'm hopeful next year finds the same kind of situation and we'll be able to ask for less from property tax payers for the third year in a row.

    Some claim this is "still tax money." BUT - it is tax money that comes mostly from wealthier parts of Maine, meaning they help us pay for education so our children aren't as disadvantaged vis-a-vis wealthier regions. That helps make sure our kids get equal opportunity.

    Mizer - we're asking for less money from property tax payers for the second year in a row and your'e still complaining? You must be one of those people never satisfied with anything!

  47. @Diane

    The overall budget is bigger due to increases in services legally required by the federal government. However, the amount being asked of local taxpayers is less. The legally required increases will be funded by state and federal government. Due to our demographics, that money is coming from wealthier areas.

  48. First of all lets stop talking taxes. It does not make any difference which pocket the money comes from, it comes from all of us, be it state, federal or local. The fact remains, the original budget I believe was set at 1.3 million over last years budget and was voted down. We have now passed a budget that is 2.7% higher than last years at 33.6 million. If passed a referendum, this is the starting point for next year. Play with numbers all you want, the fact is regardless of the reason RSU 9 budgets go up significantly every year. Other districts continue to hold the line on spending. According to information handed out a while back. our buildings are in need of roughly 1 million in repairs. We passed a bond issue for one third of the repairs over ten years. The more debt you have the less you can afford for things you might want or need. New buildings built poorly, ventilation systems that don't work properly, and purchase of window air conditioners so you can sit in a classroom, and the list goes on.
    Money that is spent foolishly, because the people that oversee these projects had one thing on their mind, a new building, not quality of a new building. I have seen comments you can only get good people if you pay them more. Then one must ask, why do we have college professors here in Farmington? They could make so much more a name university, Harvard, Yale, UConn, etc.. School teachers could make so much more in New York City. If you chose to except a position here, then stop whining about not being paid enough. The door is always open, and you can leave at any time.

  49. @ Scott Erb seems to me " the slight increase in salary " is not a must. That can be excluded from this budget . I've gone without a raise a year or two at my job I'm pretty sure you all can make that sacrifice as well.

    Since you have the figures much is the total for the slight salary increase for the district in the budget this year?

  50. Regarding John's comment...points are being made, whether or not they are properly organized/spelled/punctuated. The inability to decipher text due to poor grammar says more about the readers intelligence than the authors.