Education

RSU 39 residents pass $19.8 million school budget

CARIBOU, Maine — RSU 39 (Caribou and Stockholm) residents passed a $19,814,324 school budget on May 26 at the Caribou Performing Arts Center. The budget saw a slight decrease of $378 over last year’s $19,814,702 budget.

Only about a dozen were in attendance, and all warrant items passed with just a few clarifying questions from the public.

RSU 39 Superintendent Tim Doak explained that the budget was able to remain flat thanks in large part to federal funding awarded to schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The first draft of the budget was $22,397,072, or a $2,582,369 increase over the previous year. 

As part of his presentation, he described which funds were awarded to the school, and how they were used. Each round of funding had a deadline attached as well as certain spending requirements, such as being used toward learning loss or one-time costs. 

The first round of funding, from Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, provided RSU 39 with $366,650.08 and was spent on staffing, auxiliary personnel, iPads and wi-fi hotspots, textbooks and e-books, classroom furniture and food service supplies.

The next round, from the Coronavirus Relief Fund totaled $1,114,376.30, and was used for buses, staffing, iPads, signal boosters, Chromebooks, temperature scanning kiosks and playground equipment. 

The second round of CRF totaled $1,168,201.85. It was used for one conventional bus and a mini bus, interactive cameras for remote learning, additional Chromebooks and furniture, and internal direction and external signage.

The second round of ESSERF funding, which RSU 39 received approval for just last month, totals $1.5 million. It will be used for additional staffing, instructional and technology supplies, facility updates such as the track, science lab and general building improvements as well as security system upgrades and custodial and food service supplies.

RSU 39 is in the process of applying for a third round of ESSERF funding, which would total $3,411,120.37. Doak said this funding, if approved, would be used for staff positions such as a nurse, an IT technician, ed techs, custodians and auxiliary personnel, educational supplies and outdoor classrooms. Twenty percent of this round of funding, or roughly $680,000, would need to be spent on learning loss as a result of the pandemic, which would include setting up school during the summer and vacation weeks to help students catch up.

Doak said that while it may seem like the school could have gone beyond a flat budget and made significant reductions this year due to all the funding, the deadline and spending requirements on each round of funding, as well as the requirement that money could not be spent on items already in the budget, resulted in a flat budget for this year.

In addition to passing the regular budget, voters also approved a supplementary warrant item to accept roughly $250,000 in additional state subsidy. This additional funding comes after Gov. Janet Mills proposed funding public education at 55 percent, an initiative that Maine voters approved in both 2004 and 2016 elections. 

As of the district budget meeting, it was unclear if the funding measure will be formally passed by the Maine Legislature.

The 55 percent change will result in no changes to the total budget, but it would move $249,578.67 that would have been funded via local taxes to the state funding line. The change would reduce Caribou’s local portion from $2,946,042 by $238,667 to $2,707,375 and Stockholm’s would go from $134,695 to $123,783 — a $10,912 reduction.

And while the warrant article states that it would allow the board to use the funding to decrease costs for local taxpayers, to use it toward education and one-time costs, or to place it in the school’s reserve fund, Doak said on May 26 that he and the RSU 39 Board of Education have decided that it will specifically be used to reduce costs for taxpayers.

The next step will be for voters to approve the final budget via referendum on June 8. Voting in Caribou will take place at the Caribou Wellness and Recreation Center on 55 Bennett Drive from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and voting in Stockholm will take place at the Stockholm Town Office at 62 School St. from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.. 

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