SAD 1 seeks public buy-in on budget

Joshua Archer, Special to The County
8 years ago

Few attend Q&A sessions, referendum is Sept. 13, 2016

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine  It’s been said that progress is possible for those who work together. Passing the coming year’s SAD 1 budget has faced solid opposition, but district officials are hoping the third time’s the charm.

Last Wednesday evening folks from Presque Isle and the surrounding communities came out for a question and answer session hosted by school board members and administrators. A short time before the beginning of the new school year, a small group of about 50 residents gave up a warm summer night to have their voices heard at Presque Isle Middle School, even though only a few actually spoke up.
Some new options were presented to taxpayers, including reductions to help get the budget passed, by Clint Deschene, assistant superintendent. A couple of items on the list were the elimination of a kindergarten teaching position as well as reductions to pay and benefits, reducing the previous budget by $295,659. And the idea of phasing in all day kindergarten was wiped off the list.
“We are a district that works hard to keep those costs down,” Deschene said as he responded to critiques offered by the public.
The second budget that voters in SAD 1’s five member communities rejected July 21 would have brought a 4.8 percent increase in the district’s annual tax assessment and set aside funds to adopt all-day kindergarten in the coming years. The overall budget would have spent $24.8 million, an increase of 2.7 percent from the previous budget, with $8.8 million coming from the district’s communities.
The initial budget that voters rejected in June would have raised the district’s annual tax assessment by 9 percent and adopted all-day kindergarten this fall.
Budget adjustments to satisfy voters may help get the new year’s budget passed, but will those reductions come back to haunt the district next year? Board members want more input from taxpayers to help structure future budgets. Being transparent about the budget process and having an open forum for residents to voice their ideas helps, but a healthy dialog can only take place if folks show up and speak.
“We can’t build a budget if we don’t hear what your problems are,” board member Tim Levesque said in an interview after the workshop.
“I wish everyone would come (to these meetings),” Deschene said last week. “We need the public’s support.”
The lack of support continued during Monday night’s workshop as superintendent Brian Carpenter and Deschene addressed a crowd less than half the size as the previous meeting.
Carpenter wore his frustration on his face at the silent handful of folks that showed up, but who wouldn’t after having two budgets shot down by voters who over the past few months have shown distain against the district for fear of having their taxes raised.
Those fears have spread thanks to misinformation running rampant across social media and a lack of accurate reporting by local media, according to Carpenter.
“The problem is not the budget, it’s a lack of education,” one educator said to the board Monday night.
Three budget options were on the table which the board will consider at a meeting tonight (Aug. 17).
Option one is an increase of $106,793. Compared to last year’s budget that’s a 1.26 percent increase. Option two reduces the second proposed budget to $239,640 less with an increase of $170,593 compared to last year, a 2.01 percent increase. Option three leaves the budget with a zero increase compared to last year’s budget.
“None of the these three options are sustainable without long-term impact,” Deschene said.
At the moment nothing in staff or programming has been touched, according to Deschene, but Carpenter fears if the current trend in apathy continues programs are the next thing to go.
“We have nothing to fall back on if there’s a curtailment,” Carpenter said. “The next impact is programming … I don’t think (voters will) realize what they’ve done until we start losing students.”
The school board will set the budget and sign a warrant tonight at 5:30 p.m. at Presque Isle High School. Voters, taxpayers, the public and those willing to share ideas are encouraged to attend.
A third vote will take place on September 13 in all five SAD 1 communities.
Staff writer Anthony Brino contributed to this report.