Voters give initial OK to greater Bath school budget

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BATH — Residents from the five communities of Regional School Unit 1 gave preliminary approved Tuesday to the fiscal 2012 budget.

The $25.6 million spending plan faces a final vote in a budget validation referendum Tuesday, June 7. Bath voters can cast their ballots at Bath Middle School from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

While nearly every warrant article was approved by a show of hands at this week’s town hall-style meeting, one was required by the state to have a written ballot vote. That question – whether to raise and appropriate nearly $600,000 in additional local money to fund the budget, and thereby go beyond the state’s Essential Programs and Services allocation model by nearly $113,000 – passed 109-27.

Every warrant article passed as proposed, although an item regarding system administration faced an amendment. The approximately $525,000 line item, down from about $552,000 this year, includes funds for the School Board, superintendent’s office and central services.

Jackie Dwinal of Bath noted that School Board members had recently offered to give up their stipends in the interest of shared sacrifice throughout RSU 1. Board member Chet Garrison said he was still willing to surrender his stipend, and Dwinal moved to reduce the budget item $2,100 – the total stipend for the board’s seven members.

Pointing out that no articles had been changed so far in the meeting, Dwinal asked, “is there anything that anyone can say to decrease this budget in any way?”

Fred Hagan of Bath was among those who expressed opposition to the amendment. “I can’t, for the life of me, look up here and see any group that’s worked harder throughout the years, at very long hours,” he said. “… I’m against this wholeheartedly.”

Voters ultimately defeated the amendment and approved the article as originally worded.

If approved June 7, next year’s budget will include a 2.5 percent tax hike – a more than $413,000 increase to nearly $17 million. The budget itself will climb nearly 3 percent, or about $730,000.

A $1.1 million decline in state and federal revenues has contributed to the need for higher taxes, according to Superintendent of Schools William Shuttleworth.

A 2.5 percent tax hike means Bath’s contribution would increase 4.36 percent to $8.1 million; Arrowsic’s would climb 4.83 percent to nearly $426,000; West Bath’s, 3.55 percent to $2.6 million, and Woolwich’s, 2.86 percent to $3.1 million.

Phippsburg’s tax burden would decrease 4.24 percent to $2.7 million.

Shuttleworth noted that about twice as many people attended this year’s budget meeting as last year’s. “I think that represents an increased awareness and public concern about how dollars are spent” he said.

The superintendent, who leaves RSU 1 June 30 to become school chief in Camden-Rockport, added that he takes “great comfort that … our communities are so supportive of education, and want the best (for their youth).”

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.