RSU 5 budget includes tax hikes for Freeport, Durham, Pownal

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FREEPORT — Residents could see an almost 1.6 percent increase in property taxes as a result of the proposed fiscal year 2013 operating budget for Regional School Unit 5.

Durham and Pownal taxpayers will see larger increases to fund their share of the budget.

The proposed $24.68 million budget was introduced Tuesday by RSU 5 Superintendent Shannon Welsh and Finance Director Kelly Wentworth. It calls for an overall spending increase of $268,000 in the Freeport-Durham-Pownal school district.

The taxpayer share of the budget is $18.1 million, with Freeport taxpayers funding $13.48 million of that total. The increase in taxpayer share in Freeport will increase by about $210,000 if the budget is passed as written.

The budget drew no public comment and little response from the 11 members of the RSU 5 Board of Directors. Chairman Nelson Larkins did note that deliberations on cost to taxpayers is limited, because almost $15.9 million of the $18.1 million taxpayer share is comprised of state-mandated spending needed to earn state subsidies.

An increase in state subsidies of $336,000 to $3.83 million made the budget process easier, Welsh said, even as the district lost $432,000 of federal jobs bill money that is no longer available because of the expiration of the 2010 legislation.

Freeport taxpayers pay about 66 percent of the share for operations in RSU 5, formed in 2009.

In Durham, the local cost to fund the budget will increase by 3.8 percent, or $118,000, to $3.23 million.

In Pownal, taxpayers will be asked to pay an additional $63,500, a 3.8 percent increase, to $1.7 million.

Welsh said district enrollment is expected to see a negligible increase of nine students, to 1,883, with seven of the new students expected to in kindergarten through eighth grade. The current school year is the last year eighth-graders in Durham will be given a choice of attending area high schools with publicly funded tuition; next year, they will have to attend Freeport High School.

Welsh said the budget was created to serve priority areas of adding advanced placement courses, upgrading curriculum materials for literacy and science, and spending more on technology in the form of software upgrades for library services.

Board member Brenda Kielty of Freeport made a pitch for even more spending on digital technology by adding computers and online textbooks.

Wentworth said converting four of six district schools to propane heating helped save about $115,000 last year. Durham Community School, completed in 2010, is powered by geothermal heat with a propane backup and the proposed fiscal year 2013 budget calls for completing the conversion process at Freeport Middle School.

Welsh and Wentworth spent about 75 minutes reviewing the 11 “cost centers,” detailing specific operations budgets spending in areas including general instruction, special education and transportation.

The budget process will continue with two public budget reviews. The first is April 11 at 6:30 p.m. at Pownal Elementary School, and the second on April 25 at 6:30 p.m. at Durham Community School.

The School Board will vote on a final budget at its May 9 meeting, and the first of two public votes on the budget will take place May 23. At that meeting, district residents will vote on the 11 cost centers.

A second, yes-or-no referendum on the entire budget will take place June 12 at local polling places in Durham, Freeport and Pownal.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or Follow David on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Sidebar Elements

Freeport High School teachers Linda Pritchard, left, and Liza Moore, support staffer Deanna Koro and teacher Brian Berkemeyer greet parents and students attending conferences at Freeport High School last week. The group was part of an effort by Regional School Unit 5 staff to make the public aware of the lack of a comprehensive contract for district teachers.

Teacher contract talks produce frustration and progress

FREEPORT — Freeport Middle School teacher Liza Moore said she has a goal in mind as the school year winds down.

“I do not want to go into the summer without a contract,” said Moore, part of the Coastal Education Association team negotiating with the Regional School Unit 5 Board of Directors.

School Board Chairman Nelson Larkins, who leads the board negotiators, is optimistic about progress.

“Personally, I think we have gotten a lot closer in the last two months,” Larkins said.

It has been three years since school districts in Durham, Freeport and Pownal merged, forming RSU 5. Shortly after that, teachers from the old districts joined together.

A comprehensive labor agreement in RSU 5 has remained elusive, even as contract extensions provided pay increases based on teacher experience and professional development.

Those increases, for what are called “steps,” ranged from $400 to $1,600 annually. Larkins noted a second agreement increased the days teachers are paid from 180 to 183 annually.

But the lack of a comprehensive framework for working conditions and unified pay scale has frustrated union President Nancy Drolet and teachers like Hank Ogilvy.

“Here we are three years later,” Ogilvy said. “We are trying to do what the state mandated.”

Larkins said the distinctive language of each of the old contracts, all now expired, is part of what makes the current negotiations so difficult.

RSU 5 Superintendent Shannon Welsh said she is confident negotiations, which continued this week, will be successful.

At the same time, RSU 5 teachers are making a more public case to get a contract settled – an effort that has not gone without incident.

Last week, parents and students arriving for meetings at Freeport Middle and High schools were greeted by teachers bearing signs, buttons and pamphlets in an effort to make people aware of the labor situation.

Last Tuesday, Drolet and Freeport High School teacher David Smail said they and two others were asked to leave school grounds by Principal Raymond Grogan, who was acting on a request from Welsh.

Welsh said she did not want school doors blocked, and teachers greeting parents and students outside the high school last Thursday were allowed to remain near the main entrance.

— David Harry

Maine education commissioner to speak in Freeport

The second annual education forum hosted in Regional School Unit 5 will be highlighted by comments from Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen.

Bowen will deliver the keynote address at the forum, which begins at 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 2, at the Freeport Performing Arts Center at Freeport High School.

Bowen’s speech will precede a community discussion on the RSU 5 financial and academic performance. Financial and academic information will be available as part of the annual State of the Schools report mailed to residents in Durham, Freeport and Pownal this week.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.