Residents approve RSU 39 budget at district meeting

CARIBOU, Maine — Local residents approved RSU 39’s — the Caribou and Stockholm school district’s — annual budget of $19,814,702.56 on June 23 during their annual district budget meeting. 

The budget, while up by $89,115 over last year’s, will not result in a tax increase due to property valuations. School officials explained that a Caribou resident with a $100,000 home will pay a $10 decrease, and a Stockholm resident will pay a $16 decrease in property taxes.

Caribou’s allocation for the budget remains the same as last year’s at $3,791,191. In Stockholm, the budget will result in an overall $2,400 reduction.

RSU 39 Superintendent Tim Doak explained that the first draft of the budget was $22,261,598, which would have been a $2.5 million increase over last year’s budget and resulted in a 6.77 mill rate increase for local taxpayers. 

Once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, school officials worked to cut this projected increase from the budget while many residents were out of work and otherwise financially burdened. Cuts include a $20,000 parking lot pavement, a $20,000 cardlock system for the learning center, and $132,000 worth of cuts made by building administrators. 

Four potential ed tech positions at the Caribou Community School were removed from the budget, along with a second assistant principal position for Caribou Community School, as well as the resurfacing of tennis courts and a coach school bus. The total of all cuts amounted to $378,670.

RSU 39 also deferred several improvement projects, including a $385,000 track renovation project and a $150,000 paving project at the high school.

To date, Doak said RSU 39 has saved $530,000 because of the new Caribou Community School project, which will bring PreK-eight classes into one building as opposed to three. These savings are a result of no longer requiring operation and maintenance expenses for the buildings and the elimination of staff positions.

Increases required for the budget include salary and health insurance increases for staff, a 14 percent increase in the cost of property and casualty insurance, a 19 percent increase in worker’s compensation and a $95,000 school bus purchase.

The next morning, Caribou City Council signed a document approving the warrant to place the school budget on the July 14 ballot. And while some councilors were critical of the budget and questioned whether they should countersign this warrant, Caribou City Manager Dennis Marker said that after speaking with the Maine Municipal Association, the signing is more of a formality or “rubber stamp.”

Because the RSU serves multiple communities, its budget is similar to the County budget in that councilors or elected officials are not able to make alterations or dispute the figures outside of RSU 39’s annual budget meeting. And while Marker took part in the school’s June 23 meeting, no councilors were present. 

Though the RSU 39 budget will have no tax impact on the city of Caribou, councilor Doug Morrell was concerned about the $89,115 increase and that there weren’t more savings by consolidating the use of three buildings into one.

With councilor Nicole Cote absent and excused from the meeting, all councilors but Morrell accepted the motion to countersign. 

When the new school project went to referendum in February 2017, it was said that the school project could result in an estimated savings of “$697,388.94 in operating costs attributable to the project in each of the first two years.” 

This figure, according to Doak, was based on estimates from the project architects. He said it was not a guarantee that taxes would be reduced or that the school budget, which is separate from the new school project budget, would not incur future expenses. 

The superintendent said he has never claimed that estimated savings from the project would directly result in a mill rate or tax reduction, as future expenses and revenues for each year’s school budget could vary greatly depending on state funding and other outside factors. 

RSU 39 Business Manager Mark Bouchard said that while the demolition of the Learning Center and eventual demolition of Teague Park Elementary School and Caribou Middle School did not provide a direct savings to the community, it would have cost local taxpayers roughly $1.8 million had it not been part of the state-funded portion of the project. 

“We’re going to do what’s best for the children of Caribou and the city of Caribou,” said Doak. “We have a new school that we should be marketing and promoting together.”

Residents may vote on the RSU 39 budget during the July 14 election, which will be held 9 a.m.-8 p.m. at the Caribou Wellness and Recreation Center, 55 Bennett Drive, and 8 a.m.-8 the Stockholm Town Office, 62 School St.

Online correction: An earlier version of this story listed different poll hours for Election Day in Caribou. Polls will be open 9 a.m.-8 p.m.

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