2017-04-28 / Community

RSU 21 school budget is bound for vote

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

The RSU 21 Board of Directors has finalized a $48.88 million budget for the 2017-2018 school year, and sent it on to district voters for the final say.

The next step in the process will be the district budget meeting, set for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 16 at Kennebunk Elementary School. At that session, voters from Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, and Arundel may move to lower any of 11 warrant articles. However, finance committee chairman Matt Fadiman, of Kennebunk, noted that because dollar amounts will be listed on the warrant, those numbers act as a cap that cannot be raised, making the $45.88 million the ceiling that will impact tax bills.

Following the district budget meeting, voters will head to the polls in their respective towns on June 13 for the annual budget validation vote, an up-or-down decision on the total budget.

When that happens, the actual budget still may not be final. That’s because the RSU still does not know exactly what it may be getting in general purpose aid for education from the state.

As currently proposed by Gov. Paul LePage, a recalculation of how Maine divvies out subsidies for public education, will carve about $527,000 from the $4.6 million RSU 21 received last year.

According to Superintendent Katie Hawes, about $25,000 of the reduction is due to LePage’s efforts to reduce spending on school administration.

The rest it due to the state funding formula that cuts up the subsidy pie based on a three-year average of local property valuations. According to Hawes, that methodology means RSU 21, with the highest annual growth in property values of any district besides Scarborough, could actually end up with even less in its check from the state unless the legislature amends LePage’s budget to increase the total school subsidy package.

“Should the legislature put money back in for system administration, we would actually realize a $77,000 loss, in addition to this $527,000,” Hawes said at board meeting in March.

On Monday, the school board voted to include in the budget warrant a request that voters allow the district to accept any additional funds that may flow in from Augusta, as legislators finalize the state’s biennial budget.

Fadiman said the finance committee had voted unanimously that any extra money the RSU does get will be applied directly to tax relief by reducing the amount of money that needs to be raised in local property taxes to support the new school budget.

Meanwhile, Hawes said that if RSU 21 ends up getting less than expected, that is a bridge to be crossed at that time.

“In that case, we as an administrative team are going to have to get together and figure out how we are going to deal with that, unless it’s so dire that we have to go to the voters,” she said.

At Monday’s school board meeting, Lionel Menard of Kennebunk made two attempts at 11th hour edits to the budget.

Video of the April 24 school board meeting does not show the first motion, as it does not kick in until about 20 minutes after the meeting started. However, Hawes said that successful motion was to reduce the electricity line at two recently renovated elementary schools.

“Lionel Menard made a motion to amend [the budget] by reducing $14,000 in utilities at KCS [Kennebunkport Consolidated School] and MLD [Mildred L. Day Elementary School,” Hawes wrote in an email immediately after the meeting.

“We had used Harriman’s projections for the budget,” Hawes wrote, referring to Harriman Associates, the architectural firm behind the district’s $56.5 million renovation project of four school building.

“Lionel and Rudy [RSU Business Bruce Rudolph] discussed using the actual bills from the past few months now that the schools are open,” Hawes wrote.

Hawes said Peter Fellenz of Kennebunkport seconded the motion. Although Hawes did not provide a breakdown of the resulting vote, it clearly went Menard’s way as, once the video kicks in, the board can be seen voting to edit the warrant lines to reflect the change.

Menard’s other motion drew less support, however — which is to say, none.

He moved that the board strike from the budget $26,000 intended for use in hiring a part-time manager of the new auditorium being built at Kennebunk High School.

“We don’t know exactly how much it’s going to cost to run the theater,” he said, referring to plans to rent out the space to public and private groups when not in use by the school. But use of the space will cost the high school in heating and ventilation, an expense likely to vary depending on the number of people in the room at any given time. How much the school should charge for the space should be calculated after it has a better handle on what it takes to run the auditorium, and all that should be done before someone is hired to manage the space, Mendard said.

“I certainly think it’s too early for a theater manager without knowing this information,” he said, adding that the new auditorium is not even expected to be up and running until November. Besides, he said, the high school will still have a facilities manager who can run the auditorium until the next budget.

However, Menard’s motion to cut the theater manager position failed for lack of a second from the other seven board members present for the final budget vote.

In a rare instance, Kennebunk was actually outnumbered at the April 24 meeting. It has six representatives on the school board, versus three, each, for Arundel and Kennebunkport. However, four members of the Kennebunk contingent — Jeffrey Cole, Brad Huot, Emily Kahn, and Mike Mosher — were absent from the meeting.

According to figures released by the school district, the $39.26 million in the budget that will come from local property taxes will increase tax bills in Kennebunk by $82 per $100,000 of assessed value, a spike of 5.16 percent. In Arundel, taxes would go up 5.36 percent, adding an additional $81 per $100,000, while in Kennebunkport the increase would tip 6.16 percent, adding $51 per $100,000 of assessed value.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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