Franklin Countys First News

School budget meeting is Wednesday

The RSU 9 school board unanimously approved a $33.6 million budget at the Sept. 19 board meeting.

FARMINGTON - The fourth district-wide budget meeting for RSU 9 will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 11 at the Mt. Blue Campus. Voters will be presented with $33.6 million in recommended expenditures, following the school board's unanimous vote on Sept. 19.

The $33,637,093 budget has the same bottom-line proposed by the board prior to the Sept. 5 budget meeting. More than 300 residents attended that budget meeting and approved, by a roughly 2 to 1 majority, approximately $980,000 in reductions to hold most cost centers to the previous fiscal year's level of funding. The ensuing $32.6 million budget was then defeated at the Sept. 12 validation vote by nearly 1,300 votes.

Wednesday's meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m., half an hour earlier than the Sept. 5 meeting in part because that vote took multiple hours to complete. The decision to hold the meeting on Wednesday, rather than Tuesday, was to accommodate feedback the district received regarding Tuesday being a more active day for parents attending extra-curricular activities.

If approved at the Oct. 11 budget meeting and validated at the Oct. 24 referendum vote, the board's recommended 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. At least two towns, Farmington and Wilton, have already set tax rates using an education assessment that assumes $33.6 million school budget.

The proposed budget includes a few alterations to encompass changes that have occurred since the school year started. As previously reported, two students will need to be placed in an out-of-district private school as their needs cannot be met by RSU 9's in-district programs. The district will pay the state tuition rate of $50,000 per student for both children, costing $100,000 beyond the previously-proposed Special Education cost center of $5,184,968.

Special Education costs have been one of the central points of discussion of the budget process this year. The budget approved by residents on Sept. 5 included a $545,000 reduction from the proposed budget that school officials said would have needed to be made up elsewhere to satisfy the district's legal requirement to provide services. The district has 389 students receiving special education services, 70 of them considered high needs students. The current percentage of special education students compared to the overall student population is 15.5 percent, below the state average of 17.5 percent in 2015-16, the most recent available through the Maine Department of Education data warehouse.

The $50,000 tuition rate for the two new students is set by the state.

A second, unanticipated expense falls under the district health services component of the Student and Staff Support cost center. Due to a physician's instructions for a student, a part-time nurse will need to be added to the budget at the cost of $26,000.

To counter the increase, directors approved a reduction of $48,000 in heating oil and diesel fuel lines. Specifically, $12,800 in heating oil savings would be cut from the Operations and Maintenance cost center, while $35,200 in diesel savings would be cut out of the Transportation cost center.

An additional $78,000 was cut out of the district's budgeted contingency funds to cover the difference, leaving RSU 9 with $67,000 budgeted for unanticipated expenses.

The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 11 at the Mt. Blue Campus. Whatever budget is approved at that meeting will proceed to a validation vote on Tuesday, Oct. 24 in all 10 towns.


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24 Responses »

  1. "A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in."
    -Greek Proverb
    "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men"
    -Frederick Douglass

    Though we all wish it could be different the fact is that the role school plays in our society is changing. Many parents today are less involved than in years past, and we are seeing more and more students that require extra assistance because of behavioral and emotional problems. We live in an area where poverty is a big issue, and where often both parents are forced to work and don't have the resources to send their kids to after school programs, etc.
    We are also in the middle of a drug crisis that is getting worse. More than 1000 babies are born addicted to drugs in Maine every year. Grandparents are raising grandchildren because parents are unable to due to drug use or overdose. The foster care system is struggling to accommodate an influx of kids with major issues coming from homes where there is drugs, violence, and/or neglect. And there are children that are still living in these homes, who don't have anyone looking out for them and are still suffering.

    All of this affects schools. How could it not? Children from homes like this are not as ready to sit down and learn as other students when there are underlying issues and trauma, so we to compensate by investing more educational and emotional support/services where, yes, it should have been the parents responsibility. When you cut money from a section of the budget (like special education) that money has to be pulled from elsewhere, including those programs and others. It takes from the students who need it the most.

    If you do not believe that the number of these children from broken homes is increasing, just ask any teacher, student, recent graduate, social worker or school bus driver you know. It's undeniable.

    For many of these kids school is more than just a place to learn english and math - programs like art, music, foster tech, and sports are helping these troubled students, as well as smaller class sizes allowing more one on one time with a teacher who is trying to play catch up for the parent's short comings. Teachers are stepping up to the plate, doing way more than is required of them, and they deserve every penny they get for doing one of the most difficult and important jobs. As a young adult who was in school not too long ago, I have personally seen the way having these programs available benefited my less fortunate peers, and they continue to do so thanks to amazing dedicated teachers who care about each student.

    Also, previous comments about special ed students have been shameful, they deserve as many opportunities as any other student to reach their potential. We have a moral and legal obligation to give that to them, just like the other kids.

    To conclude, I believe we need to get to the root of all of these problems. Cutting the budget doesn't help anyone or solve anyone's problems. To those of you struggling to pay their property tax and other bills, I think there are bigger problems that need to be addressed - shrinking the school budget is not going to solve your financial strain. Instead of punishing students who are troubled through no fault of their own by limiting opportunities, take your anger to the state and national government, who should be doing more for rural schools like ours. And we clearly need to find a way to better educate parents on how to be parents, and do something about the poverty and drug crisis, so we have less needy children requiring special care.

  2. It seems pretty arrogant to redo the same amount that was voted down once before. Don't you think there should be some compromise?

  3. If the school board wasn't compromising we would have the budget presented back in June, to which they had made cuts from what Admin had presented, so even that was a compromise.

  4. Michael, it's not the same amount, there was compromise. Almost all new money went to property tax relief, meaning that over the last two years the board has asked for $545,000 LESS than before. Moreover, cuts remain to services like the library, and programs like world languages. The board did not add needed positions in science and vo tech because, although there is demand, we recognized the importance of asking less from property tax owners. So despite nearly 4% more students, and $800,000 more in required mandatory spending, the board is still asking for less from property tax payers.

  5. Looks pretty close to the so the same as before. The property taxes did drop which must be what Scott is looking at. The school budget has increased every year. We may come yo an agreement,now that we are this far into the 2017 budget. either way they will want to increase too much the next time around.

  6. "either way they will want to increase too much the next time around."

    This is the problem... One side is convinced there's an evil conspiracy out to get more of their dollars. It doesn't matter what evidence is presented to prove people are paying less - they just move on to claiming it will happen in the future (or other conspiracy theories). Unless they have a time machine, they should stop making predictions. It's equally valid to say another decrease from local taxes will happen in the future. Perhaps the conspiracy theorists should start supplying us with the source of their alternate information. Unfortunately, they seem to avoid providing hard facts & figures. It's almost like they're just making it up...

    A bigger total budget doesn't mean more local taxes. The budget increases are required by and paid for by the federal government. The portion of the school budget paid by local taxes has gone down. When people fail to understand this simple concept... it makes me think we're definitely not spending enough on education.

  7. Yes, property taxes needed by the District have dropped two years in a row....should we ask for three years in a row?

  8. "To counter the increase, directors approved a reduction of $48,000 in heating oil and diesel fuel lines. Specifically, $12,800 in heating oil savings would be cut from the Operations and Maintenance cost center, while $35,200 in diesel savings would be cut out of the Transportation cost center."

    Why weren't these reductions included in the first budget? I bet there are other areas that could be reduced also. The administrators have to start digging deeper into the budget categories.

  9. Guppy. We are paying a million more than last year.. it's all paid for by taxes somewhere..
    It's just too much for poor Franklin county.. that's s fact.. nobody is making up any theory. 33.6 million is just too
    Much for us to keep paying for. Why can't we keep same as last year ?
    We could if they wanted too but nobody wants to give up anything...

  10. I'd like to see the towns make a statement at their Annual Meetings in March/April.
    Put an article on the Town Warrant saying the town will pay "XXX" toward the school budget, and NO MORE. Then let the school figure out how they are going to live with the amount the towns are giving them instead of telling the towns WHAT THEY INSIST ON HAVING! The schools have been holding the towns/tax payers hostage for too many years. And I think it's time for the towns to fight back.
    When little towns with late tax payers have to decide if they're going to pay the school or plow the roads because no one came in to pay their taxes, it's time for towns to stand their ground.
    Most towns know what the school wanted last year, and this year, so an amount in the range should do. If the schools can't live with that, then let them figure out HOW to live with that. Write Grants. Reduce payroll. Cut benefits. Do something other than spend more.

  11. @Poor man pete

    "Guppy. We are paying a million more than last year.. it's all paid for by taxes somewhere..
    It's just too much for poor Franklin county.. that's s fact.. nobody is making up any theory. 33.6 million is just too
    Much for us to keep paying for. Why can't we keep same as last year ?"

    It is all paid for by taxes somewhere - from much wealthier areas. Franklin county is NOT paying for the LEGALLY REQUIRED cost increases. You're personally paying less than last year. Saying you're paying more is a made up theory which has been refuted by the facts. No amount of screaming about the school budget will make those legally required cost increases go away.

    It's like a person's budget when gas prices go up. In this scenario, the increased gas cost is being covered by a voucher (federal government). The person's budget for other items could remain the same without costing the person more - the increase is dealt with. However, a "friend" insists their total budget must remain the same. Instead of spending the same amount as before - they have to make cuts to level out the total. However, gas prices went up so dramatically, that the cuts aren't enough to equalize the total budget numbers. The "friend" gets increasingly angry and insulting about how the person isn't doing enough to keep the same budget as before - even though the person is actually using less money. This is where we're at with the school budget. People are equating personal tax responsibility with simple budget totals. That's not how the school budget works.

    @Nancy Porter

    "When little towns with late tax payers have to decide if they're going to pay the school or plow the roads because no one came in to pay their taxes, it's time for towns to stand their ground."

    "Do something other than spend more."

    They are spending less. Also, it's not the schools responsibility if people don't pay their taxes.

  12. Nancy,

    You had your bite at the apple and the voters voted it down. The voters are the folks who live in those small towns, Starks,Chesterville, Industry, Temple, Vienna and New Vineyard, collectively had more voters turn out and they voted the last budget down for its extreme cuts to vital services for our kids.

    For all those who propose cutting other peoples pay checks it is time for reality check. Imagine if your employer came to you and said. I know I promised to pay you 10.00 an hour but Mr. Joe does not want to pay the .50 more for this widget so I am going to cut your pay. Would you stay at that job? What if you had children to feed and student loans to pay, could you afford to take a cut in pay? What if every time a cost of business increased your employer asked you take another cut in pay? Would you stay in that job?

    You don't want an increase in taxes? How about taking it up with the state and federal government who continue to use our kids as experiments with every unfunded mandate and educational philosophy du jour that our school district must implement or lose funding? How about addressing the tax shift to local municipalities that happened with the cut in taxes to the upper 7% income earners? How about addressing the decimation of the circuit breaker program that provided relief to lots of low income folks who paid property taxes?

    It burns me to no end that we have this divide. There are people struggling to pay their taxes of this I have no doubt. But there are also lots of people who aren't. I know that there are plenty of folks who live in really nice homes in this area who support your position, not because they can't afford to pay taxes but because they are of a mindset that since they don't have kids in the schools they should bear no responsibility for this common good. Shame on them.

  13. Why oh why does the town not tax UMF? there will be many responses as to why not. Truth is UMF keeps buying property. and you say it cannot be taxed? come on....

  14. @Open your eyes

    "Why oh why does the town not tax UMF?"

    Here's the simplest reason:

    Because it's pointless for government to tax itself... UMF is a state-run university. The town gets funding from the state government. It would be a whole lot of paperwork and money shuffling for UMF to "pay taxes" which are then returned to the town. Do we want to pay more taxes to support that pointless administrative cost?

  15. sigh,
    yes if my company was losing money or revenue and it meant a paycut or losing my job I would gladly take the cut. I work 3 to 4 years without a raise and seem to live. we can do it folks if we pay attention and buckle down..

    poor man pete is exactly right.. Live on same money as last year. we can do it but nobody wants to buckle down and be frugal. Money is root of all evil and its coming out in these comments.

    I don't care where the money comes from it all comes from tax payers and we're getting sick of it.

    If youre making 40000 + a year you certainly can live on that next year too!!

  16. When all is said and done I hope people realize that it was not easy to avoid asking for more property taxes - and in fact to cut is $545,000 over two years. Given a near 4% increase in student population, and about $800,000 mandatory new spending, one would expect that we'd have no choice but to ask for more. But the board did not.

    The board refused to increase library spending, even though it's only about 40% of what it was almost ten years ago. The board did not add positions in vo tech (esp. composites) and science, even though threre is student demand and it arguably would be worth it in the long run. The board did not undo the cuts to world languages. Any spending increases were met with tough questions; most were rejected (despite often having good rationale). The reason - the school board was determined not to ask for more money from property tax payers.

    Some want to dismiss this effort. I guess one can't expect appreciation, especially in a country where many people look at these things ideologically, viewing the "other" as involved in some kind of conspiracy. But most people I hope realize that the school board worked very hard to avoid asking for more taxes, and turning down spending we know would have been good for the district. We've also told those who accuse us of "spending too little" or "Listening too much to an insatiable minority" that we think we need to keep property taxes from rising.

    Tonight I hope we pass this reasonable compromise budget, and that it gets approved by the voters. Whatever the result, I'll continue to listen to people on all sides, recognizing I have a lot to learn about the school and its budget moving forward. I'll always listen. I ask those who have opposed the budget to please recognize that we're trying our best to balance interests and take the tax burden seriously. We're all in this together, there is no evil conspiracy, just different perspectives - and we can work those out best if we listen to each other.

  17. @sammy

    You're assuming there's no other jobs to be had. Would you stick around for repeated pay cuts while other companies wanted to hire you at a higher wage? Other school districts around us already pay higher wages. There's less and less incentive for the best teachers to stick around.

    Why are you so upset that the federal government is paying for the services they legally require? The school has no power over those costs. The school administration actually decreased costs elsewhere - requiring even less local taxpayer money than last year. Advocating for "the same money as last year" means you want the school budget to be bigger than what's currently proposed. It sounds like what you really want is for government to change the legal requirements. That's an issue to take up with politicians, not school administrators. Do you also complain to local school administration about your federal income taxes? It would be just as pointless - they don't control it.

    "I don't care where the money comes from it all comes from tax payers and we're getting sick of it."

    That you don't care about the actual facts and figures is abundantly clear. Why do you feel the right to complain about taxes that you aren't paying? The wealthier areas paying for the legally required increase in school costs should be the ones complaining (they're not). I'm tired of local people wailing about paying more taxes - when they're actually paying less. If people are going to falsely complain about higher taxes anyways, let's actually raise taxes.

  18. Taxes are going say they have gone does not even pass the sniff test, and something really stinks. I will not go tonight, but I surely will vote no on this again.

  19. Guppy
    I guess we'll agree to disagree. I know we can go on last years budget.. period and lose no jobs. But as long as schools are funded by taxpayers you apparently don't care. If this was a business that you were running you would make that decision in a heartbeat!!

  20. @Poor man pete

    "I know we can go on last years budget.. period and lose no jobs"

    Please provide the realistic math to back your claim up. Otherwise, it's just another conspiracy theory. Realistic math would include salaries, curriculum, maintenance, supplies, heating costs, special education needs, vehicles, plowing, I.T. costs, etc... Let's see your own ready-to-work version of a budget (Hint: highly educated teachers don't work for minimum wage). Don't forget not to break any education laws. It's easy to criticize until you have to come up with a real-world solution!

    Let's consider your idea that the school system is like a business. Businesses have to deal with rising costs (for everything from materials to transportation). It's completely unrealistic to imagine that costs remain the same. If a business doesn't have increased income to counter that - they cut jobs. The school has increased costs that must be covered (by law), but they've still figured out a way to ensure that you personally pay less. Why are you so upset about that?


    "Taxes are going up"

    The amount that the school is asking from local taxes is going down. If your town is raising rates, it's not due to the school district.

  21. @Guppy.
    Then why is UMF allowed to buy up more properties? if you did the math it would benefit the town more to collect the taxes.

  22. @Open your eyes

    Again... it's just a money shuffle for government to tax itself. If you want the state of Maine to increase state funding given to Farmington based on having properties here - that's something to take up with state politicians. Having UMF put on a show of "paying taxes" is a waste of time and money. It's like paying for a hotdog at your own hotdog stand. It makes people happy that you're paying just like them, but it's just for show.

  23. Open your eyes it would help if the town of Farmington would stop the college from buying properties up. They need to keep properties on the tax table which means they need to be sold to taxable entities. The town is afraid of saying no. It's the same idea as Roxanne giving all the land in the new "National Monument " to the federal government. It would be better for the state if there was actual tax revenue coming from that land , but that may have cut into her profits a little to deep...

  24. Open your eyes and Sillanpaa-

    These are discussions that would be best addressed to your town selectman and State legislators. Town taxes and the University land allocations are not controlled by RSU 9.