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RSU 5 board adopts $25.8M budget, braces for state budget

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RSU 5 board adopts $25.8M budget, braces for state budget

FREEPORT — With a somewhat clearer budget picture from the state, the Regional School Unit 5 Board of Directors made a conservative decision to adopt a $25.8 million fiscal 2014 budget – an increase from earlier proposals to help brace for potential state cuts.

The budget now heads to a public budget meeting on May 22.

The nearly $270,000 increase from earlier budgets reflects the board's decision to include about $200,000 for teacher retirement payouts traditionally paid for by the state, and the addition of a $70,000 math teaching strategist to help low-performing students.

The increase also boosts the tax impact on the three towns in the district, pushing Durham's increase to 10.5 percent, Pownal's to 8.9 percent, and Freeport's to 3.4 percent. The spending plan represents more than a 4 percent increase from the current, fiscal 2013 budget.

Depending on the final state budget, which could change the retirement funding structure dramatically, the district could end up using the added money in different ways.

At their May 8 meeting, based on feedback from a previous meeting, the board voted to add the teaching position and also keep money in the budget as a precaution against paying for teacher retirement.

Superintendent of Schools Shannon Welsh said that according to state funding formulas, if Gov. Paul LePage's budget is approved as is, RSU 5 would pay 70 percent of the nearly $200,000 in teacher retirement with local money. The remaining 30 percent would be drawn from state subsidy.

Passage of the governor's budget would also mean the teaching strategist position would go unfilled.

If the governor's budget is not passed and teacher retirement continues to be covered by the state, the RSU 5 board would then decide either to return the money budgeted for retirement costs to taxpayers to offset taxes later, or use it to build up the contingency fund, Welsh said.

LePage has said he will remove all state funding for teacher retirement if the Legislature wants to keep funding it at the state level, forcing many school boards to plan conservatively, Welsh said.

"Now the board is going to watch and see what happens with the state regarding education funding," she said, noting that the Legislature's Education Committee recently sent the budget to the Appropriations Committee, with a recommendation the state pay for the full $28 million teacher retirement bill.

Another variable is tuition costs for students attending charter schools.

In RSU 5, 10 students are now planning to attend area charter schools, which is expected to cost the district $98,000.

Welsh said the number of students and the cost could change before the budget is approved by voters, with student letters of intent still waiting to be returned.

Charter school tuition costs per-pupil for local school districts vary, based the on economic and social needs of the student, but generally average about $9,000.

The annual town hall-style meeting on the budget is scheduled for 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, May 22, at Freeport High School. The budget validation referendum in each town is June 11.

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or wgraff@theforecaster.net. Follow Will on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.