FORT FAIRFIELD, Maine — Fort Fairfield’s school district MSAD 20 is seeing an increase in its 2019-2020 budget, along with a need for a range of school infrastructure investments.
MSAD 20’s board of directors approved the budget on Thursday, May 23, said superintendent Tim Doak. The total budget came to $6.6 million, about $417,000 more than last year and with an increase of 1.3 mills to the town’s tax rate, he said.
Fort Fairfield’s current mill rate stands at $24.70 per $1,000 of property value.
“This is the best we could do without impacting programs,” Doak said.
This year MSAD 20 received less state funding than last year, partly related to a decline of 15 students in the district’s total enrollment, Doak said. The state funding formula is based on property valuation data going back two years and doesn’t reflect last November’s closure of the ReEnergy biomass electricity plant and its impact on Fort Fairfield’s tax rolls, Doak said. The town of Fort Fairfield has not yet approved a 2020 budget or set its tax rate.
Of the additional $417,000 added to the budget this year, approximately $380,000 is slated for increases in wages and insurance costs for all staff, Doak said. The rest of the increase is going toward a range of capital improvements that Doak said he’s hoping will be stretched further if the town of Fort Fairfield is successful in winning a public safety grant.
The district has earmarked $265,000 for capital improvements that include new doors, security cameras and intercoms at the high school, as well as replacement of old carpeting with tile flooring, said Doak.
He added that the district hopes the town wins the public safety grant to cover those security-related building improvements in order to divert more capital funding to deteriorating pavement in the school parking lots, walkways and driveways.
“One of the big issues we’re facing now is pavement around the buildings,” Doak said. “That’s a big issue with a big price tag. Hot top pavement is not cheap. If we could get some of that grant money, that would really help.”
The costs to fix pavement at the high school would be about $150,000, Doak said.
If the grant does not come through, Doak said the district’s leaders will be looking at options to pay for the fixes in the coming years.
Also looking ahead, Doak said he and other education leaders are preparing for the likelihood that the state will raise the statewide minimum teachers salary to $40,000.
MSAD 20 is one of the “largest small school districts in the area,” serving as the district for the town of Fort Fairfield and counting just under 500 students, said Doak, who is also superintendent for RSU 39 in Caribou.
At the same time, MSAD 20 has one of the lowest starting salaries for teachers in Aroostook County, at $31,000, he added.
The $40,000 minimum “will impact a lot of these smaller districts in Aroostook County,” said Doak.