Vote in RSU 5 includes added funding for teacher

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FREEPORT — Regional School Unit 5 voters will decide June 13 whether to approve a $32.2 million budget  that would mean a 5.25 percent increase in the district’s tax rate.

At a May 24 annual budget meeting, nearly 120 residents voted to add an additional $73,000 to the original $32.1 million budget recommended by the Board of Directors at a March 22 meeting.

The additional funds will create another middle school teaching position at Freeport High School – something that Chairwoman Michelle Ritcheson said Friday the board had contemplated, but ultimately left out of its proposal.

Town by town, the amended budget would impose the greatest tax rate increase to Pownal, at 5.8 percent. In Durham, the increase hovers just over 3 percent, and in Freeport, just over 3.5 percent.

In Freeport, polls are open 7 a.m.-8 p.m. at the high school at 30 Holbrook St.; in Pownal from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. at Mallett Hall on 429 Hallowell Road, and in Durham, 8 a.m.-8 p.m. at the Community School at 654 Hallowell Road.

“In terms of highlights for the budget, the things that were our priorities this year was increasing the pre-K program,” Ritcheson said.

Nearly 4 percent higher than the current year’s spending, the proposed budget would add an entirely new pre-K classroom at the Morse Street School in Freeport.

Funding would also extend kindergarten in Pownal to a full day.

“Early intervention is worth the investment,” Superintendent Becky Foley wrote in a letter on the district’s website, alluding to research on the long-term benefits of preschool programming.

The budget also called for additional instructional support for teachers, notably a new middle school math teacher to be shared by Durham and Freeport.

Ritcheson described the debate to fund another middle school teacher in Freeport “a lively conversation,” resulting in a decision that was ultimately supported by about two-thirds of those present.

Ritcheson said the board built the budget on the working assumption that RSU5 would not be returned more than $200,000 it stands to lose if Gov. Paul LePage’s budget proposal passes into law without revision by the Legislature. The state budget is not expected to pass prior to the district’s June 13 budget validation referendum.

As such, the board recommended a warrant article that would delegate any education subsidy the Legislature restores to the district to go directly toward offsetting taxes. Per state statute, the board had the option of using the money for tax relief, to restore cuts to the budget, or roll it forward into a reserve fund balance.

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

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Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net.