$4.6 million RSU 89 budget passes second hurdle

6 years ago

STACYVILLE, Maine — A group of about 50 residents showed overwhelming support Tuesday evening for a $4.6 million budget for the newly-formed RSU 89.

The RSU 89 budget of $4,673,395 represents an increase of $358,331 for taxpayers in the member communities of Stacyville, Patten, Sherman and Mount Chase.

As presented, the district will receive $2,205,638 from the state, which is down from last year due to declining enrollments. There are an estimated 333 students in grades pre-K to 12 in the Katahdin school district, as of the April 1 enrollment count.

To receive that state subsidy, the district must provide a required local contribution of $1,110,959. In addition, to balance the budget, taxpayers must also come up with $827,159 in “additional local” dollars.

Superintendent Dawn Pray, who also serves as superintendent/principal for the Medway School Department and as assistant superintendent for East Millinocket/Woodville, said the budget represented the board’s best effort to continue providing quality education to students, while trying to minimize the impact to taxpayers.

“The board’s goals with this budget is to maintain the programs that the schools currently have,” Pray said. “We think it is very important for staff to have professional development in order for us to get better. We also need to continue maintaining our schools. Both buildings need investments and we are working on grants to help with that.”

Comparing the proposed budget to last year’s figures is difficult as the 2018-19 spending plan is the first for Katahdin as a standalone school district. Since 2011, the schools were part of RSU 50 along with Southern Aroostook Community School as one consolidated region.

RSU 89 Interim Superintendent Dawn Pray speaks to an audience Tuesday at Katahdin Elementary School prior to the district’s budget meeting. The $4.6 million spending plan was approved overwhelmingly by those in attendance. (Joseph Cyr)

The communities of the former SAD 25 began the withdrawal process after the RSU 50 board announced in early 2016 that it was considering drastic cuts, including the possible closure of Katahdin Middle-High School due to declining enrollment in the region.

The reorganization planning committee spent two years trying to withdraw from RSU 50, before finally being successful in November 2017 at the polls. An interim RSU 89 board was elected in March of 2018 and Pray was selected as the interim superintendent at that time to ensure that the new RSU would be up and running by the start of the 2018-19 school year on July 1.

Pray added that the goal of the board is to begin developing more long-term plans for what the community wants for its schools

“We understand people are on fixed incomes, so we need to be sure we are being responsible to our programs and students and taxpayers,” she said.

Pray explained that the budget will be split between the four towns of Stacyville, Patten, Mount Chase and Sherman based on valuations. Sherman will contribute $622,215, while Mount Chase will put forth $458,094 Patten will contribute $595,160, and Stacyville will add $223,154.

Few questions were posed on the spending plan during the hour-and-30 minute meeting held at the Katahdin Elementary School.

None in attendance spoke against any of the 23 warrant articles, but a handful of residents did vote ‘no’ on several of the items. The vast majority of those in the audience were in favor of the spending plan.

“I would like to say ‘thank you’ to all of you (school board members),” said resident Janice Charette. “It hurts to spend $4 million, but we take care of own. We spent $4 million as a community of Katahdin, not as a community of others.”

“We really could not have done this without our team,” said board chairman Jon Ellis. “We know this is a tough pill to swallow, but I think as a board we will work hard to bring our children a good education balanced with something the taxpayers can afford. This is our school and our community and we have one last chance to do this.”

A validation referendum vote now will be held on June 12 at the town voting areas in each member community.