Voters from the eight towns of Regional School Unit 20 rejected the district’s proposed school budget for the second time in a referendum on Tuesday.
Turnout at the polls was low across the district, and the margin of defeat in most towns was decisive. Beyond that, school district officials will have to guess as to what went wrong this time.
The $33.8 million budget would have raised the local share by an average of 12.4 percent over last year. Distirct officials have attributed the jump this year to lost revenue from declining enrollment, less General Purpose Aid from the state and the loss of subsidies for the town of Frankfort, which left the district this year.
A first draft of the budget that contained just under $1 million in budget cuts and would have raised the local share by an average of 17.2 percent, district-wide was rejected by voters in June.
The revised budget voted down on Tuesday sat closer to the school board’s original draft, which would have upped the local share by just over 11 percent. Many residents, particularly from smaller towns where the school budget accounts for most of their property tax bills, spoke out against the double digit increase. Those who supported paying more to keep existing services got some of the contentious teacher cuts restored in the most recent budget, but not all.
In this way, the “no” votes cast at the polls Tuesday may have come both from voters who wanted more cuts and those who wanted fewer.
Speaking on Monday, before the vote, Superintendent Brian Carpenter said if the budget were rejected he would recommend that the board cut everything back to the original bare bones figures approved by the board in May and let voters add back in what they want at the public budget meeting.
Carpenter also noted the cost of holding additional referendums, which he said cost voters $15,000 each time they go to the polls.
“The next one will put us at $30,000, which is almost a teacher,” he said. “Do we spend our money on teachers or on referendum votes?”
Voters in some towns will be holding an additional referendum to gauge voter interest in petitioning the state for withdrawal from the RSU. The six municipalities of the pre-consolidation School Administrative District 34 — Belfast, Belmont, Morrill, Northport, Searmont and Swanville — attempted a coordinated withdrawal in June that gained a wide margin of support at the polls but was disqualified based on a minimum voter turnout requirement.
Withdrawal campaigns have restarted in several municipalities including Belfast, which is scheduled to hold a referendum on Aug. 20. Town officials in Bemont and Morrill have also received valid withdrawal petitions.
Results of the July 30, RSU 20 budget referendum
Belfast — Yes 125 — No 397
Belmont — Yes 17 — No 48
Morrill* — Yes 22 — No 77
Northport — Yes 65 — No 79
Searsmont* — Yes 24 — No 101
Searsport* — Yes 49 — No 93
Stockton Springs — Yes 90 — No 125
Swanville* — Yes 25 — No 45
Reported by town officials, except (*) reported by VillageSoup/The Republican Journal
Ethan Andrews can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org