RSU 1 residents praise budget for pre-K, foreign language

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BATH — The proposed Regional School Unit 1 budget drew praise Monday about the expansion or restoration of two programs, as well as requests to add time to two others.

The comments came during a 30-minute public hearing at Bath Middle School. Another public forum will take place there at 6 p.m. Monday, April 27.

While the $27.3 million fiscal 2016 spending plan would shrink 3.6 percent from current spending, the major factor behind the decrease is the loss of West Bath, which voted overwhelmingly last December to leave the school district at the end of June.

RSU 1’s total local contribution for the current fiscal year was $18.8 million. Without West Bath, that number would have been $16.1 million, according to information provided by Business Manager Debra Clark. Total local taxes for next year could be $16.8 million, or an apples-to-apples increase of 4.8 percent.

Of that hike, 3.1 percent would be due to additional expenses, while 1.7 percent, or about $273,000, is the net impact of West Bath’s withdrawal, Clark said: loss of both revenue and expenses from the town, and additional state and tuition revenue to the district.

Of the remaining RSU 1 communities, Bath could pay $9.6 million in taxes, an increase of 4.7 percent; Arrowsic, about $452,000, up nearly 4 percent; Phippsburg, nearly $3 million, up 6.6 percent; and Woolwich, $3.8 million, up 3.7 percent.

As requested by administrators, two items were added to the budget presented Monday: expansion of the district’s pre-kindergarten program from three to five days a week, adding about $30,000 in expenses, and restoration of a foreign languages teacher at the middle school level, which adds about $70,000, according to Clark.

The district found several ways to adjust the budget to cover those costs, including reducing fuel expenses; adjusting health insurance to show a 5 percent hike, instead of 6.5 percent; and reducing the cost of two employees by 10 percent, since West Bath will employ them a small part of the time, Clark explained.

Jeannie Harrington of Woolwich, who has children in the fifth and seventh grades, praised the foreign language addition, noting that “I think that will set our children up for more success as they enter high school, having that foreign language curriculum under their belt.”

Kate Brockett, a preschool teacher in Phippsburg, commended the School Board’s “courage and insight” in supporting expansion of the pre-K program, “in a time when many school districts are grappling with whether or not to fund preschool programs.”

The board also received requests from members of the public to increase art from four to five days a week in Woolwich, which Clark said would cost about $11,000, and to add a half day to music in Phippsburg, an approximately $7,000 expense, based on current employees.

The School Board’s second reading of the spending plan will take place May 4. Then the budget goes to two votes by the four communities: a district budget meeting May 26, and a budget validation referendum June 9.

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.