School budget meeting sends RSU 1 spending plan to voters in greater Bath

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BATH — Voters in the four Regional School Unit 1 communities gave initial approval to a nearly $25 million fiscal 2011 budget on Monday.

The spending plan now goes to a budget validation referendum on Tuesday, June 8, for final approval.

Next year’s budget reflects a decrease of more than $133,000, or 0.53 percent, from the current year. The fiscal 2011 local contribution of $16.54 million is up nearly $100,000, or 0.58 percent, from this year.

The RSU’s anticipated revenue reductions include a more than $400,000 cut in state subsidy.

Three communities would see their contributions drop through the district’s cost-sharing formula: Arrowsic, down 16.22 percent to more than $406,000, Phippsburg, down 3.72 percent to $2.85 million, and West Bath, down 0.63 percent to $2.51 million.

Bath would contribute $7.8 million, 0.07 percent more than the current year, and Woolwich would pay nearly $3 million, an increase of 11 percent.

Woolwich’s hike is due to a rise in property value and a student enrollment increase due to construction of a new school, scheduled to open in September 2012, according to RSU 1 Superintendent William Shuttleworth.

The budget eliminates five teaching positions in kindergarten through eighth-grade foreign language, with one teacher retiring and a slot being created for a world language technology integration specialist. That specialist will aid in the shift of elementary school foreign language classes from classroom instruction to Web-based learning.

Two teaching positions are also to be cut at Morse High School.

During discussion of next year’s $10.14 million cost of regular instruction, John James of Bath noted that while special education expenses are being budgeted for about $143,000 more, regular instruction costs are being cut by about $180,000.

“RSU 1 will be taking care of new incoming special needs students, as it should be, and as required by law,” he said, “but at the same time has chosen to remove some outstanding teachers from the classroom, dismantled an elementary world language program, and introduced computers to replace teachers in the classroom.”

Shuttleworth said the number and severity of special needs children served has increased significantly in recent years, necessitating those added expenditures. Meanwhile, the overall student population is decreasing, triggering the staff cuts in regular instruction, he said.

James’s proposed amendment to restore the almost $180,000 reduction was defeated, and the original article passed as presented.

Along with deciding on next year’s budget on June 8, voters will also be asked whether they favor continuing the budget validation referendum process for another three years. A yes vote means RSU 1 must continue to conduct the referendum to validate its budget for the next three years, and a no vote will end the referendum for at least three years and have budget approval be a one-step process at the annual meeting of the voters.

RSU 1 Board of Directors Chairman Charles Durfee said his panel recommends budget approval take place at just the annual meeting, a no vote.

“It’s a system which allows questions (and) answers,” he said, adding that it offers the citizenry a chance to modify the budget as it sees fit.

The polls will be open for Bath voters at Bath Middle School on June 8 from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.

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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.