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Freeport RSU proposes $24M budget

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Freeport RSU proposes $24M budget

FREEPORT — A preliminary fiscal 2010 budget of $24 million for Regional School Unit 5 was presented at a workshop Saturday, three days after a superintendent was selected to run the district.

Superintendent Shannon Welsh said the budget is a work in progress due to questions about state allocations and teacher and administrative contract negotiations.

The RSU budget is a combination of the three town budgets – a total of $21.5 million from Freeport, Pownal and Durham – and an additional $2.6 million in capital and high school improvements, debt service and salary increases. The RSU budget is $24 million, but Welsh said not all of that will have a tax impact on residents of the three communities.

"What we want to present is the tax impact to the residents of each town," Welsh said. "But you can't consider the budget until you know what it does to your checkbook."

According to Welsh, the proposed budget shows Freeport with a reduced or unchanged tax rate. Durham, she said, will see an increase in taxes due to the construction of a new elementary school. Pownal residents will see the greatest increase in taxes, which is something the RSU board will have to work on, she said.

Welsh said transferring money from a town budget to the RSU budget may throw people off, but it is money already paid for by taxpayers. She said in Freeport, school capital improvements used to be listed on the municipal side, but are now in the RSU budget. Residents are also currently paying for high school and central office debt, but now that cost will be shared by Durham and Pownal.

She said $750,000 that is listed in the RSU budget for the new Durham elementary school is money that the state will contribute, but it looks like an increase now. Improvements to the Durham school – geothermal heating, a larger gym and a pitched roof – are local only debt for Durham residents, but must be listed in the total school budget. Also new to the RSU budget are services previously provided by the town of Pownal, like snow and rubbish removal, which will no longer be provided to the RSU.

Diane Boucher, Freeport business manager, said there is a lot to work out before the budget is set.

"This number is absolutely changing," she said. "From state funding to local contributions, it could all change."

While Welsh said there are no anticipated savings from consolidation within the first year, she said there are some "no-cost benefits" to the school district. Durham teachers who have worked with the Everyday Math program can offer professional development to teachers with less experience. She also said there it is possible that penalties paid by districts that didn't consolidate could be used to enhance programming for students and offset resident taxes.

"We need to focus on academic programs, teaching and learning," Welsh said.

The next version of the RSU 5 budget will be presented on April 8 at 6:30 p.m. at the Freeport High School library.

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