RSU 1 budget ready for first of 2 votes by public

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BATH — A proposed $28.35 million spending plan for fiscal 2015 goes before Regional School Unit 1 voters at a district budget meeting Tuesday, May 27.

Two weeks later, the budget – supported unanimously May 5 by the RSU 1 Board of Directors – goes to a final validation referendum on Tuesday, June 10.

Total spending is proposed to increase 2.2 percent, with $18.8 million from taxpayers, according to information provided by the district. RSU 1 expects to receive $8.84 million in state subsidy, an increase of approximately $19,000.

The local contribution for each of the RSU’s five communities would 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 the district receives were previously spread among all five communities, but a new formula adopted by RSU 1 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 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; almost $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, which total 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 hike 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, due 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 initiate 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.

The May 27 budget vote will be held at 6 p.m. at Bath Middle School.

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.