SULLIVAN — Voters will consider Regional School Unit 24’s proposed 2020-21 budget of $17.35 million — up 1.99 percent from last year —in the form of ballot questions at the primary election polls on Tuesday, July 14. Votes can be cast either in person or by absentee ballot.
Instead of holding a district meeting, where residents from Eastbrook, Franklin, Gouldsboro, Mariaville, Sorrento, Steuben, Sullivan, Waltham and Winter Harbor traditionally cast their votes on the coming year’s RSU 24 budget, school officials instead opted to hold a public hearing on June 24 via the Zoom online platform to hear public comments and questions.
The procedural change was decided after Governor Janet Mills’ June 3 executive order permitting Maine towns to hold online public hearings rather than the customary district meetings where large crowds could not be safely accommodated due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.
RSU 24 officials’ June 24 online meeting drew just over two dozen people. No questions or comments arose regarding the proposed 2020-21 budget of $17,353,898.17, which represents a $338,859.02 increase over last year’s budget of $17,015,039.15. It was presented by RSU 24 Superintendent Michael Eastman.
“The upcoming school year has a lot of wild cards in it,” RSU 24 Business Manager David Bridgham said Thursday, noting more funds are being budgeted to replenish basic classroom supplies that were depleted during the 10 weeks of remote learning ending June 2. Students’ laptops also require more maintenance to ready them for users in the fall. Extra money is being budgeted for more sanitation and cleaning supplies.
For capital improvements, the business manager said funds have been budgeted to install an ADA
(Americans with Disabilities Act)-compliant lift enabling disabled students to access the stage at Mountain View School in Sullivan. Other expenses include paving and phone upgrades at various schools.
In his presentation, Eastman says Budget Committee members worked hard to anticipate different scenarios and related costs hinging on whether the novel coronavirus is contained, persists or spreads.
“It is unlikely that school next year will look like the education that we or our children experienced,” he said. “It is more apt to resemble a hybrid of traditional in-person learning (suitably distanced) and remote learning similar to how this school year ended.”
At the polls on July 14, voters will consider four ballot questions. The first seeks their approval of the overall 2020-21 budget. In the second question, they are asked to allow RSU 24 officials to shift more than 5 percent of one line-item funding to another in anticipation of pandemic-driven circumstances changing and pressing needs emerging. The third question asks voters to approve the RSU 24 Adult Education budget totaling $428,566.24. But the adult-ed budget will require 2.5 percent fewer raised taxes given a balance forward and the state subsidy. The fourth question asks for approval to transfer $400,000, which was reimbursed by the state for preliminary design work for the new Sumner Memorial High School building, to a capital improvement reserve established last year by voters.
For the 2020-21 budget, Bridgham said the projected total tax appropriation of $13.005 million represents a decrease of $22,560.70 overall over the $13.027 million raised the previous year. Depending on their valuation and school enrollment, RSU 24 member towns can expect the following rises and cuts in their assessments: Eastbrook (-1.6 percent), Franklin (+0.42 percent), Gouldsboro (+3.62 percent), Mariaville (-3.81 percent), Sorrento (+1.47 percent), Steuben (+0.13 percent), Sullivan (-0.61 percent), Waltham (+0.72 percent) and Winter Harbor (-8.73 percent).
“Gouldsboro had large increases in both student population and property valuation and will, therefore, get hit with the largest assessment increase,” Eastman said. “Winter Harbor, next door, had the largest decrease in student population and a modest valuation increase and will therefore see the largest decrease in its assessment.”
When and how RSU schools’ classes resume in September, Bridgham says Budget Committee members have worked hard to anticipate different scenarios and related costs.
“The 2021 budget was created and reviewed a number of times to best find the balance between the needs of our students and the resources of our communities,” Eastman said late last week. “We know people will be struggling in both the short-term and long-term and we presented a budget that we believe is reduced to the lowest level possible. As we all know, it ebbs and flows over the years and seems to even out over time.”