Special ed costs, minimum wage factors in RSU 25 budget increase

BUCKSPORT — Increased special education costs and a higher minimum wage, among other factors, have led to a proposed 5.3 percent increase in next year’s Regional School Unit 25 (RSU 25) budget.

RSU 25 Superintendent Jim Boothby on May 10 presented the Town Council with a final proposed school budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.

The RSU 25 School Board approved a proposed spending plan totaling $15,156,407 Tuesday at its regular monthly meeting.

“This is a significant increase overall — 5.3 percent,” Boothby said. “This is a corrective year.”

Boothby said the RSU is $250,000 over budget this current year because of special education.

“These are high-needs students with high costs associated with them,” Boothby told the board. The RSU had anticipated 220 students receiving special education this year. However, another 23 enrolled after the year began.

“That increase of 23 included students who came with higher additional costs than we were prepared for,” Boothby said.

Another big driver has been the “minimum wage impact,” Boothby said.

Maine voters approved in 2016 to increase Maine’s minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $12 an hour by 2020. On Jan. 1 of this year, minimum wage became $10 an hour. The wage will increase a dollar a year until 2020, when it caps at $12 an hour.

“That really impacted collective bargaining,” Boothby said. “I don’t know if that was intended or an unintended consequence.”

The RSU has two collective bargaining agreements, one for teachers and the other for all the other staff, from ed techs to janitors to building secretaries to cooks and more.

Because new staff were being paid closer to what experienced staff were paid, the wages of existing staff were raised.

“We’re 70 percent personnel,” Boothby said.

RSU 25, which has an enrollment of more than 1,000 students, employs dozens of people.

They include:

  • 93 teachers.
  • 42 ed techs.
  • eight administrative assistants and school secretaries.
  • 11 custodians.
  • 11 cooks.

“Then a parcel of coaches and substitute teachers,” the superintendent said. There is a staff of “summer maintenance” workers who keep up the buildings from “spring thaw to first frost.”

The public is invited to a district-wide budget meeting at the middle school auditorium on Wednesday, May 30, at 7 p.m.

On June 12, there will be a budget validation vote at the town offices in Bucksport, Orland, Prospect and Verona Island.

In other budget business at the Town Council meeting, social service agency funding for the upcoming fiscal year was reviewed again.

Bucksport is fully funding the request of the James Russell Wiggins Down East Family YMCA, totaling $118,926. That’s an increase of $28,580. The increase will support additional programs as well as increased staffing at the ice rink.

The proposed municipal budget totals $5,577,270. That’s an increase of 9 percent over the current year’s budget. Some of the increase is due to increased costs of running the sewer treatment plant.

The Town Council will send the budget out for public comment at its May 31 meeting.

The council is scheduled to adopt the FY 18-19 budget on June 14.

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.

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