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RSU 39 school board approves $20.8 million budget featuring slight increase

CARIBOU, Maine – On Wednesday, RSU 39 school board members unanimously approved a budget that will be slightly higher than initially predicted.

RSU 39 will hold its district budget meeting on Wednesday, May 25, at 5:30 p.m. in the Caribou Performing Arts Center at CHS. Once approved by voters at that meeting, the budget will be voted on by Caribou and Stockholm residents on June 14.

During an April 27 workshop, Business Manager Mark Bouchard predicted that the initial $20,813,971 total budget for the next fiscal year would rise due to expected expense increases. On May 4, he confirmed that the total budget is now $20,826,248, a 5.1 percent increase over last year’s budget of $19,814,324 and a 0.1 percent increase over the budget he projected last week.

Despite the increase, Bouchard said, the budget is good news for the district because the revenue and expense sides balance each other out. Shared services with districts in Fort Fairfield and Washburn, which include information technology and special education, give the district more revenues to offset increased expenses in fuel oil, bus fuel and electricity.

If passed by residents, the budget will result in a mill rate increase of 0.41 mills for the entire district, which includes Caribou and Stockholm. With that increase, Caribou residents would pay $3,754,214 in school-based taxes while Stockholm would pay $133,557 — a $201,747 and $447 increase respectively — over last year.

Prior to voting, school board member Betheny Anderson praised district officials for reducing a budget that originally totaled $22,384,579, which would have been a 12 percent increase over last year.

Board Chairwoman Tanya Sleeper agreed and said that despite the mill rate increase the budget represents the best option for both the district and taxpayers.

“It reflects the obligation we have to be responsible for our taxpayers,” Sleeper said.

Many of the budget’s final reductions were attributed to the elimination of several staff positions, which the board unanimously approved Wednesday.

The budget eliminates a district-wide computer teacher, due to decreased enrollment in those courses, as well as a district-wide English Limited Learner teacher. Due to decreased demand for ELL services, that role will be filled by a current staff member certified to teach those students.

Superintendent Tim Doak noted that both positions could be reinstated in the future if the demand for those courses increases.

The board also opted to replace the Caribou High School librarian position with a district librarian who will serve CHS and Caribou Community School. A library ed tech will be hired to staff the high school library on days when the librarian is at CCS.

During the public comment period, CHS math teacher Vanda Madore expressed concerns that the library changes could have a negative impact on students. She noted that the current librarian is well-versed in media programs and has become an important resource for staff members learning those programs.

“When we changed our grading system, the librarian sought out specialized training [in the program],” Madore said. “With all the specialized media that students use, it’s hard to keep up with them, but the librarian has taken it upon herself to learn so that staff can keep up.”

Sleeper thanked Madore for her feedback but clarified that the library will continue to have a trained staff member present every day and will not be closed.

Board member Ron Willey echoed some of Madore’s concerns and suggested that the board reevaluate their decision next year and discuss whether the staffing change had a negative impact on students. The board agreed to make that request part of their motion on the staffing change.

“I would say we need to put that on the agenda by March 2023,” Doak said, about the library discussion.

In other business, the board unanimously approved the hiring of Jamie Selfridge as CHS assistant principal. Selfridge will replace Evan Graves, whose position is transitioning from assistant principal and athletic director to that of a full-time athletic director.

Selfridge most recently served as principal of Fort Fairfield High School in the SAD 20 district, for which Doak is also the superintendent. 

“I’ve worked with a lot of administrators over the years and Jamie has been one of my favorites to work with,” Doak said. “She has been a true leader in education in the state of Maine.”

Selfridge thanked Doak and the board and said that she was “excited to be part of the team” at CHS.

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