A divided school board voted April 28 to send a proposed budget of $21,489,112 to the voters of School Administrative District 40.

Voters will go through the warrant articles June 7 and set a dollar amount for the budget. On June 14, voters of Friendship, Union, Waldoboro, Warren and Washington will vote yes or no at the polls on whether to approve the district’s budget.

The budget number that passed in the school board meeting was an original figure that represents an overall increase of 2.9 percent from last year. The increase to local assessments would be 4.58 percent.

In mid-April, the school board’s Budget Committee asked the administration to cut the proposed budget so the five district towns would only face a 2.1 percent assessment increase. The administration came back with $288,000 in proposed cuts to accomplish this, but that was not the version of the budget that was ultimately endorsed by the school board.

The vote April 28 to send the budget to the voters was 8-7, with a weighted vote of 506-444.

Voting in favor of the $21,489,112 budget were David Benner, Gail Hawes, Sandra O’Farrell, Dana Dow, Maggie Massengale, Tod Brown, Bonnie Davis Micue and Kim Linscott.

Voting against that budget were Mary Genthner, Sherrie Clark, Erik Amundsen, Danny Jackson, Francis Cross, Ron Dolloff and Dennis Wooster.

Dow, who was chairman of the Budget Committee, talked about the balance on the “knife’s edge” between the tough economic times and providing a quality education.

“We asked the administration to put a budget together that had a 3 percent cap on the entire thing, and they brought that to us,” Dow said. “And then we asked about checking into some more possible cuts that were $288,000. And after looking the list of cuts over, I have to ask myself a question: Are we starting to affect the quality of the education that we have here. That also comes into play. I wish we had the money that some other districts have but we don’t. That’s the knife’s edge. The economic times and the question about are we effecting the quality of education in SAD 40.”

Dow said he did not believe the board increased the budget. The school board voted in December 2010 to cap the budget increase at 3 percent.

Hawes agreed that cuts were made to the district’s budget. “We have to remember we have decreased the budget as far as education portions in order to compensate for cuts to MaineCare, cuts to federal titles money, cuts to the special education program, increasing fuel costs, and insurance. That is by far a much larger increase than what we have raised in the budget. So in essence you can also look at it as we have held the costs down to no more than a 3 percent increase. If we went budget to budget as it was funded for last year then there was a heck of a lot more in it than what came forward. Just remember that we have cut.”

Dolloff and others said they wanted voters to decide if this is the right budget for 2011-2012. He said he was in a “conflicting situation.” He said he would vote for the budget in the voting booth but not at the table as a school board member.

“I listen to the taxpayers and I know it’s a very difficult time,” Dolloff said. “Personally, I will vote, myself as an individual, to support this budget without blinking an eyelash. I think it’s a good budget. As a representative of SAD 40, in this day and age, I cannot support it. I believe it’s too high. And I believe it’s high because we have not addressed class size. I think we can have a 20 percent increase in class size across the district and not bat an eyelash.”

Dolloff said the debate must focus on class size. Later in the meeting, board members approved a motion to work on that issue in the coming months.

“There is no other place to tackle this,” Dolloff said. “Freshman basketball — get out of here. Drama — no, of course not. Librarians, no. …So we’re going to vote for the budget and have the best school system in Maine because we have the best teacher-student ratio in the whole area.”

Clark questioned why the Budget Committee and administration did so much work to further cut the increase to local assessments. “I am so frustrated about all the work we have done to try to get this down, now we’re just going to approve it the way it was,” Clark said.

School board members took three other budget-related votes. They voted to have a closed warrant at the budget referendum on June 7. “It means the budget can be amended down but not up,” said Micue, the chairman. Last year, it was an open warrant. But previous years were closed warrants.

School board members voted to put a separate warrant article on the ballot that would create a fuel stabilization fund ($75,000). The contingency fund would only be used if all other fuel expenditures were used up. The money in the contingency fund would roll over to future years, and could only be used for fuel.

They also voted to put another separate warrant article on the ballot to purchase two additional buses ($54,000 in first-year payments). The state would reimburse the district for those purchases.

At the April 28 meeting, school board members and administrators recognized the accomplishments of the middle school Destination Imagination team, the District 3 honors band and chorus, and the middle school wrestling team members that placed at the state competition.

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