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Voters give preliminary OK to RSU 1 budget

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Voters give preliminary OK to RSU 1 budget

BATH — In a meeting that lasted less than an hour Tuesday evening, voters gave initial approval to next year's Regional School Unit 1 budget.

The $28.35 spending plan for fiscal 2015 now goes to a budget validation referendum on June 10.

About 60 voters from RSU 1's five communities – Bath, Arrowsic, Phippsburg, West Bath and Woolwich – attended the meeting, held at Bath Middle School.

All 19 warrant items passed as proposed, although an attempt was made by West Bath resident David Hennessey to amend a $2.4 million student and staff support article. He proposed adding about $10,000, restoring the Expeditionary Learning cost at the West Bath elementary school to a full $30,000.

Voters defeated the amendment, 30-14.

Total spending could increase 2.2 percent, with $18.8 million from taxpayers, according to the district. RSU 1 expects to receive $8.85 million in state subsidy, a more than $19,000 increase.

The local contribution for each community could be $9.2 million from Bath, up 3 percent; Arrowsic, about $435,000, down 8.3 percent; Phippsburg, $2.8 million, up 5.4 percent; West Bath, $2.7 million, up 2.1 percent, and Woolwich, $3.7 million, up 4.6 percent.

Local contribution is based on a cost-per-pupil formula, determined after subtracting debt service ($1.8 million) and miscellaneous revenues ($707,000) from the budget, and dividing by total enrollment.

Subsidies and special education reimbursements RSU 1 receives were previously spread among all five communities, but a new formula adopted by district voters last year now directs those funds to the communities generating the revenues. Bath and Woolwich receive subsidies, while Arrowsic and Phippsburg get a special education reimbursement. West Bath receives neither.

Proposed budget hikes include about $67,000 each for a high school alternative education teacher and expansion of the life skills program at the elementary school level; about $17,000 for expansion of the pre-kindergarten program; $30,000 for a guidance position at Woolwich Central School; almost $40,000 for an educational technician at Fisher-Mitchell elementary school, and about $10,000 for an increase of the choral program at Morse High School.

Suggested reductions, totaling about $161,000, include half a full-time special education teacher at Phippsburg Elementary School, half a full-time teacher at Bath Regional Career and Technical Center, and not replacing a retiring classroom teacher at the Dike-Newell elementary school.

The budget's proposed increase of nearly $604,000 includes increases of about $453,000 for salaries and benefits, and nearly $293,000 for expenses such as maintenance, professional services, leases, adult education, capital improvements, office expenses, and contingency.

Also reflected is a drop of about $234,000 in tuition expenses, thanks to a reduced number of grandfathered students and their siblings for whom RSU 1 has been paying out-of-district tuition, and fewer special education students to be sent outside the district.

Meanwhile, West Bath is suing RSU 1 to recover $1.9 million the town believes it overpaid in the first four years of the school district's existence. The lawsuit, filed in October 2012, claims West Bath should have been assessed a total of $8.2 million over the course of four years, but instead paid $10.1 million. The suit claims RSU 1 owes West Bath $1.9 million, plus interest.

West Bath residents also voted by about a 3-1 margin Jan. 21 to start the process of withdrawing from the RSU, which was created in 2008. A committee has been developing an agreement for the town's withdrawal, and a second referendum is required for West Bath to officially withdraw.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.