RSU 39 passes budget after making nearly $2 million in cuts

4 years ago

CARIBOU, Maine — The RSU 39 (Caribou and Stockholm) Board of Education unanimously passed its 2020 budget during a June 3 meeting, which will result in no mill rate increase for Caribou taxpayers.

The $19,814,702.56 budget is up by $89,114.94 from last year, or a 0.45 percent increase.

RSU 39 Business Manager Mark Bouchard said on Thursday that while the budget is slightly up from last year and community valuations, which are outside of RSU 39’s control, could affect the mill rate, this year’s school budget will not require more tax dollars than last year’s.

RSU 39 Superintendent Tim Doak said the administration worked to cut close to $2 million in this year’s budget — part of the school district’s effort to not burden the residents who are financially struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

After further negotiations with Limestone, RSU 39 is offering the town a one-year contract for full price tuition of $11,063 per student, as opposed to a previously offered 14 percent discount. Part of the new deal is that RSU 39 will provide transportation for tuitioned students coming from Limestone to Caribou.

Limestone Community School voted to officially withdraw from RSU 39 in late 2018, with PreK-8 classes reopening in August for the 2020-21 school year. RSU 39 and Limestone are negotiating whether Limestone students will be allowed to tuition elsewhere under the withdrawal agreement if Limestone decides to bring back high school instruction.

During the June 3 board meeting, Doak said Limestone indicated that approximately 41 kids would be tuitioning to Caribou, and that RSU 39 budgeted that income at about 37 just to be safe, which results in more than $400,000 of revenue.

Moving forward, Doak said he told Limestone Superintendent William Dobbins that he would like to facilitate more discussion between RSU 39 and Limestone school boards.

“If we’re going to survive in Aroostook County,” he said, “we need to share resources and help each other, and boards talking to each other is a really powerful piece of that.”

Doak said the only major personnel cut was a reduction of a world language position at the Caribou Community School, a new preK-eight facility. After a teacher in this position recently resigned, the board opted not to fill it.

High School French teacher Jonna Boure during the meeting suggested offering an opportunity for eighth students to take early French classes at the high school, in the same way that eighth grade students are able to take advanced math classes. She said that it is crucial for students to begin foreign language instruction in middle school, as it allows them to become eligible for AP language classes later in high school.

Doak and several members of the board agreed with Boure and said in their motion to remove the middle school position that they would also pursue allowing eighth-graders to access French classes at the high school.

The school will not pursue any capital improvement projects for the 2020-21 year in order to come in with a flat budget. Despite the cuts, Doak said the school will still be keeping its personnel and programs.

“The resource officer will be back,” he said, “and sports will be back. If we do go back to school next year, kids are really going to need sports.”

The board will meet next on June 17 and approve the warrant for the district budget meeting. Once approved, the school will host a socially distanced meeting in which residents will be able to vote on the budget. After this, Caribou and Stockholm voters will be able to formally approve the school budget during the July 14 election.