RSU 1 board to vote on 2.5% tax hike

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BATH — After a two-hour public hearing and hour-long discussion April 28, the Regional School Unit 1 Board of Directors directed Superintendent William Shuttleworth to present a fiscal 2012 budget with a 2.5 percent tax increase.

Consensus did not come easily to the board, which discussed budget scenarios with tax increases of 1.5 percent to 2.99 percent before arriving at a decision.

Comments during the meeting also suggested the divide between unionized teachers and district officials remains wide after difficult and protracted, but successful, contract negotiations.

Shuttleworth is expected to return to the board Tuesday, May 10, with a budget that will be approved by the board and then sent to the public for two votes – first at a district budget meeting May 31, and finally in a budget validation referendum June 7.

According to the draft discussed last week, a budget with a 2.5 percent tax increase would total $25.6 million, an increase of about $730,000 from current spending. The district-wide local appropriation would increase from $16.5 million to nearly $17 million.

Shuttleworth has said a $1.1 million loss in state and federal revenue largely contributed to the need for higher taxes.

With a 2.5 percent increase, Bath’s contribution would increase 4.36 percent to $8.1 million; Arrowsic’s would rise 4.83 percent to nearly $426,000; West Bath’s, 3.55 percent to $2.6 million, and Woolwich’s, 2.86 percent to $3.1 million.

Phippsburg’s tax burden would decrease 4.24 percent to $2.7 million.

Positions proposed to be cut include an educational technician job and a Woolwich fourth-grade teaching job (both vacated by retiring employees), four Morse High School teachers, a technology integration specialist (a job that may be absorbed elsewhere), a home economics teacher at Bath Middle School, two district-wide elementary foreign language teachers, two educational technicians, and a computer technology teacher at the Bath Regional Career and Technical Center.

Although the board asked the Sagadahoc Education Association to consider reopening contracts to consider furlough days or a pay freeze, David Cowie – co-president of the SEA and a sixth-grade teacher – said last month that RSU 1 teachers waited 18 months for their contract, and that union negotiators had already made financial concessions in light of the funding shortfall.

He said that union members, when surveyed about the board’s request, overwhelmingly declined.

Morse High School teacher and union member David Ingmundson noted that his paycheck comes from the local and state budgets, and that he expects to lose more money from the state than he is gaining locally.

“I would welcome a pay freeze, but the fact is right now I’m about 500 bucks behind,” he said. “… I’m starting behind, and I’m not the only one.”

Shuttleworth said on Tuesday that administrators had agreed to two furlough days, “contingent upon a shared sacrifice model” among all staff.

“Shared sacrifice” was a recurring theme throughout the April 28 meeting.

“The people I’m talking to out there, they’re willing to sacrifice,” board member Chet Garrison said. “But we’ve been sacrificing year, after year, after year. And this particular year is horrendous for people out there. And I don’t mind sacrificing. … Take my (School Board) stipend. It’s not much … It’s my contribution, a little bit of my contribution. And … I challenge the rest of you to do the same thing.”

He added that “shared sacrifice starts at the top, guys. It starts with us. And if we’re not willing to sacrifice, then how can we ask anybody else? We need to share the sacrifice, the administration needs to share the sacrifice, the teachers need to share the sacrifice. The town, the community people need to share the sacrifice.”

Garrison said he would not support 2.5 or 2.99 percent increases without shared sacrifice, but “I would be willing to support 10 percent, if that’s what it took, as long as there was a shared sacrifice. But there is no shared sacrifice here.”

He said he respects the district’s teachers and does not want to see them cut, “but how much more can we ask of the taxpayer, without the rest of us sacrificing too?”

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

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.