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After defeat at polls, RSU 5 board hopes to make better case for fiscal 2010 budget

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After defeat at polls, RSU 5 board hopes to make better case for fiscal 2010 budget

FREEPORT — The Regional School Unit 5 board plans a public relations offensive to gain the support of voters who rejected a proposed $23.5 million budget on June 25.

On July 1, with fewer than 30 residents in attendance, the board developed a schedule that includes taking public comments on Wednesday, July 8, before members vote on another budget. On Tuesday, July 21, residents of Freeport, Pownal and Durham will meet once again in the Freeport gym for a second district-wide budget meeting where they will vote on each budget article.

The following Tuesday, July 28, residents will again cast ballots in their towns to either approve or reject the fiscal year 2010 school budget.

The budget failed 661-582 on June 25. Nearly 32 percent of Pownal residents voted, and they overwhelmingly rejected the budget, 382-34. In Freeport, 8 percent of registered voters went to the polls, and they voted 479-70 in support of the spending plan. Durham rejected the budget 209-69, with nearly 9 percent of voters casting a ballot.

RSU Chairwoman Laurie Poissonnier of Durham said some of her constituents thought a no vote on the referendum was a vote to dissolve consolidation. She also said some Durham residents could not vote for a budget that would cause financial hardship to their Pownal neighbors. And some, she said, did not understand the budget and balked at the $23.5 million total.

"We need to better inform people who don't have children or don't understand the budget," Poissonnier said.

To do so, the board intends to send newsletters and mailers, using a robo-calling phone service, update the RSU 5 and town Web sites, and contacting parents via school e-mail lists.

Durham resident Allan Purinton, a former member of the Reorganization Planning Committee, said consolidation could work for the three towns, if not for the cost.

"We have the same philosophy in all three towns, but need to step back and put ourselves into other people's shoes," he said. "If you don't make some significant changes here, you'll continue to have this battle."

Board members directed Superintendent Shannon Welsh, administrators and business director Diane Boucher to evaluate staff changes in the central and business office and reductions in another teaching position at the high school. They were also asked to assess transportation costs, and the potential benefits of outsourcing instead of purchasing school buses.

In addition, Durham's town valuation has increased from $185 million to $191 million, changing the tax impact. And with Freeport Superintendent Elaine Tomaszewski leaving to lead the Wells-Ogunquit school system, her salary and contract have been dissolved. Discussions are expected to continue surrounding the need for a curriculum coordinator.

The meeting on Wednesday, July 8, will be at 6:30 p.m. in the Freeport High School cafeteria.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net.