RSU 1 budget calls for overall tax hike of more than 3%

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BATH — The Regional School Unit 1 budget could increase 2.3 percent in fiscal 2015, while the amount to come from taxes could rise 3.2 percent.

A public forum on the spending plan will be held at Bath Middle School at 6 p.m. Monday, April 7.

The budget could reach $28.4 million, with $18.8 million from taxpayers, according to information provided this week by Finance Director Ruth Moore. The district could receive $8.9 million in state subsidy, an increase of approximately $53,000.

The local contribution for each of the RSU’s five communities be $9.2 million from Bath, up 2.9 percent; Arrowsic, nearly $436,000, down 8.1 percent; Phippsburg, $2.8 million, up 5.5 percent; West Bath, $2.7 million, up 2.3 percent, and Woolwich, $3.7 million, up 4.5 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.

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

Proposed increases in the budget 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 toward a guidance position at Woolwich Central School; nearly $40,000 toward an educational technician at Fisher-Mitchell elementary school, and about $10,000 for increase of the choral program at Morse High School.

Suggested reductions totalling 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 potential increase of nearly $638,000 includes hikes of about $459,000 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 decrease of about $234,000 in tuition expenses, due to a reduced number of grandfathered students and their siblings for whom RSU 1 has been paying out-of-district tuition, and a decreased number of special education students 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 initiate the process of withdrawing from the RSU, which was created in 2008. A committee is developing an agreement for the town’s withdrawal, and a second referendum is required for West Bath to officially withdraw.

RSU 1 residents will vote twice on next year’s budget – at a Town Meeting-style gathering May 27, and a budget validation referendum June 10.

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

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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.