Officials in Saco and Dayton are urging residents to reject the budget proposed for Regional School Union 23 at the polls Tuesday.

If the spending plan fails, it will be the second consecutive year that voters have sent a budget back to the school board for revisions.

The Saco City Council unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday calling on voters to turn down the $42.5 million budget for 2010-11. Dayton’s three selectmen also are urging rejection, but haven’t drafted an official statement. The district covers Saco, Dayton and Old Orchard Beach.

Saco officials say Old Orchard Beach’s per-pupil costs are about 30 percent higher than the costs in the other two communities, and that its student-teacher ratio is lower.

Dayton’s selectmen say the way costs are allocated means the town’s tax rate would rise by 85 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, nearly 6 percent, because of school taxes alone.

Saco’s tax rate is expected to rise less than a penny per $1,000 because of the proposed budget, while Old Orchard Beach’s rate would decline about 12 cents.

Saco Mayor Roland Michaud said Old Orchard Beach’s cost per student is about $12,000 a year, while Saco’s is $9,900 and Dayton’s is $9,100. Officials with RSU 23 said they could not immediately provide per-pupil costs for each community.

Saco officials also said that Maine’s school consolidation law, which required the formation of regional units, was intended to save money, yet that hasn’t happened in the district.

Even though the proposed budget is up less than 1 percent over this year, Michaud said the savings from consolidation should be showing up in tax bills now.

“We created this RSU to make efficiencies and save money, and in two years we haven’t seen that at all,” said Jeff Christenbury, a Saco city councilor. “And we’re very wary that Saco is not getting its fair share.”

Superintendent Michael Lafortune said he thinks the district, which began operating July 1, will eventually prove to be efficient. He said figures like per-pupil costs and student-teacher ratios will balance out, but “we can’t get to that kind of parity overnight.”

Saco councilors passed a resolution last year urging rejection of the district’s first budget, saying it was simply too much for the city’s taxpayers. After voters defeated the spending proposal, the school board found more than $1 million in savings and voters approved the budget in a second vote, in August.

Gary Curtis, a school board member from Old Orchard Beach, said some of the savings were found last year when the board got more time to prepare the budget after its initial rejection.

The 2010-11 budget, he said, is an overall improvement.

“For all intents and purposes, our budget is a flat budget,” Curtis said.

The only additional funding, he said, is money set aside for several major union contracts that will expire this year. The district also must negotiate a new contract with Thornton Academy, the private school that serves high school students from Saco and Dayton.

“I am concerned (about Saco’s resolution and opposition from Dayton selectmen), but I hope cooler heads will prevail,” Curtis said.

Ted Poirer, chairman of Dayton’s selectmen, said the higher taxes in his town would fall on the backs of homeowners, since the town has little industrial or commercial activity.

 

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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