RSU 73 school board plans busy month
LIVERMORE FALLS - Facing difficult decisions in the wake of two district proposals being shot down by voters, the RSU 73 school board has planned a busy month of board meetings and workshops.
Residents of Livermore, Livermore Falls and Jay voted against the $18.8 million school budget on June 12, with a combined 642 in favor and 734 opposed. The referendum question asks if voters supported the action taken at the district budget meeting. At that meeting on June 6, residents cut more than $200,000 out of the budget recommended by the school board.
The current, 2011-2012 budget expires on July 1. According to statute, Superintendent Robert Wall said, the district would be able to continue running on a temporary budget equal to the $18.8 million budget passed at the June 6 meeting, until a 2012-2013 budget was set, approved and validated at referendum.
"This process has to repeat until we have a budget," Wall said.
The board must wait 10 days until the process restarts, which takes the district to June 20. On June 20 at 6 p.m. at the Spruce Mountain Middle School, the board is planning to hold a budget workshop to help set a new budget with the assistance of the community. The board would then meet on June 28 and schedule a new budget meeting for July 12. Another referendum vote would be set for July 24.
Directors expressed frustration in the conflicting messages they had received from the community in regards to that vote. While some residents clearly thought the budget, which was up roughly $410,000 from the current fiscal year's expenditures, was still too high, others had indicated they opposed the cuts made at the meeting and thought it was too low.
Director Tim Madden of Livermore said he had been hearing that a lack of confidence in the information presented to the public was a significant motivator behind the negative vote. This opinion was echoed by members of the audience, which Madden said highlighted the need for a community and board workshop.
Running parallel to the budget process is the ongoing facility realignment in RSU 73. Although the board voted in April to close Spruce Mountain High School's South Campus building at the end of the next school year, that decision is dependent on space for the 295 displaced students being found at the North Campus in Jay. The board presented a $5.3 million renovation and construction project to the RSU 73 voters on May 8; that project would have brought the North Campus school up to state code and added several classrooms.
However, voters opposed the bond by a combined total of 316 in favor to 566 opposed, leaving the future of RSU 73's facilities up in the air. Where the South Campus students are, students, parents and staff informed the board Thursday evening, had significant bearing on a number of issues, ranging from scheduling classes to the 2013 graduation.
Board members held a workshop on the issue Monday, collecting public opinion on options that included a new addition project, bringing in portable classrooms and doing nothing. The board collected a wide variety of opinions, with mixed responses to every proposal.
Some directors were prepared to take action on the issue Thursday evening. Director Jackie Knight of Livermore Falls said she would be prepared to support a proposal to lease portable classrooms for 12 to 18 months, in order to get the high school students together as quickly as possible.
"We need to get them together," Knight said.
Other directors wanted to wait, noting that student surveys on the issue had been collected but not reviewed. Chair Denise Rodzen of Livermore Falls said she was not prepared to entertain a motion on the issue that evening. Instead, directors scheduled a meeting on the subject for Thursday, June 21, at 6 p.m. at the Spruce Mountain Middle School. Action is expected at that time.
Resident Clayton Putnam agreed the board should consider the surveys of the students, as it had requested the input, but warned that a decision did need to be made soon.
"I hope the board does step up and make a decision," Putnam said. "The north and south [separate campuses] has got to go. It's time to move on."