Will 16 voters from School Administrative District 61 change their minds about the $26.6 million budget they rejected in June?

Or will a different pool of residents from Casco, Naples, Sebago and Bridgton turn out at the polls Tuesday?

If neither of those things happens, SAD 61 will start the 2011-2012 school year without a budget in place.

Voters in the district have already rejected two budget proposals this spring. The first, for $26.8 million, was turned down by a 93-vote margin in May. In a referendum in June, the proposed $26.6 million budget was rejected by a difference of 16 votes.

Although the SAD 61 Board of Directors tried to shave $75,000 off that figure, residents at a district budget meeting last week voted to restore the funding.

So, in the third referendum Tuesday, the budget on the ballots will be one that residents have already rejected.

Donna Norton, a board member representing Casco, doesn’t think her constituents are about to offer their support for the budget. She didn’t think the proposed $75,000 cut was enough to turn around the town, which rejected the proposal in June by 44 votes, the largest margin of the four towns.

“How many times can we go back to the drawing board and do this again?” she said.

Jim Rier, deputy commissioner of the Maine Department of Education, said there are only a handful of districts that reject their budgets, among the 170 budget-validation votes that occur annually in the state.

Still, if SAD 61 voters turn down the budget again, Rier said it wouldn’t be the first time a Maine school district has had to hold four referendums since the state in 2008 made the budget validation process mandatory. The department doesn’t have a complete list of how many times it has happened.

Rier pointed to Bingham-based School Administrative District 13, which in 2009 rejected three proposals before approving a budget in November of that year.

It took a year for Regional School Unit 12, a district of eight towns including Wiscasset, to adopt its 2009-2010 budget, Rier noted. The fifth proposal was approved the same day as the district’s 2010-2011 budget.

When voters haven’t adopted a budget before the start of the school year, the district’s working budget is the one approved in a town meeting-style vote at the most recent district budget meeting.

Rier said delaying the approval of a budget makes it difficult for municipalities in the district to commit taxes and for the school district to manage its expenses.

But the budget that’s finally approved, he said, probably isn’t going to be much different from the working budget.

Another drawback of holding multiple votes is that the referendums cost money.

Sherrie Small, SAD 61’s finance coordinator, said the district will have spent about $14,000 on the three school budget referendums this year.

The first vote accounts for about half that cost because electronic ballots were used. The subsequent referendums, using paper ballots, cost between $3,000 and $3,500 each, she said.

Although Norton, the Casco board member, didn’t think residents in her town would approve the budget, she wouldn’t predict whether the district would need to hold a fourth referendum. Residents from the other towns could vote differently, she said. “It’s a toss-up.”

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at: 791-6364 or at

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