SACO – Residents of Saco, Dayton and Old Orchard Beach will vote June 12 on a proposed $43.6 million school budget that has raised concerns in Saco, despite its overall reduction in spending.

Concern over the budget total and a possible backlash from voters prompted the Saco City Council to set aside $30,000 in case residents want to explore withdrawing from Regional School Unit 23. Saco and Dayton officials unsuccessfully sought legislative permission last year to withdraw from the district.

The budget for 2012-13 would eliminate 12 jobs and be the only school budget in York County with a decrease, say school officials. Residents added $91,000 to the school board’s budget request during a regional meeting earlier this month. The total budget is about $25,000 less than the budget for the year that ends June 30.

Superintendent Patrick Phillips said the district lost more than $4.7 million in revenue, in part from federal jobs bill money that was not replaced and reductions in Medicaid funding. The district expects just over $1 million more in state aid than it got for the current budget.

Phillips said $558,000 in personnel cuts included a business manager and Medicaid secretary, as well as teaching positions in Old Orchard Beach and Dayton. No teaching positions were eliminated in Saco, but school officials said teaching cuts will be likely if voters reject the budget.

The district cut an additional $700,000 in costs largely from maintenance and special education.

A formula that voters adopted in November makes cost-sharing more equitable for the district’s three communities. The result, Phillips said, is that Saco is “playing catch-up” and will pay a larger percentage of local costs beyond the state-mandated level for essential programs and services.

Gary Curtis of Old Orchard Beach, the school board chairman, said Saco will now pay nearly 56 percent of additional local costs. In 2011-12, Dayton paid 24 percent of additional local costs, while Old Orchard Beach paid nearly 53 percent and Saco contributed 23 percent. In the next year, Dayton will pay nearly 11 percent and Old Orchard Beach will pay about 34 percent of additional local costs.

Saco accounts for 71 percent of the district’s students, while 9 percent come from Dayton and 20 percent come from Old Orchard Beach.

Despite the overall decrease, the budget would require a tax increase in Saco. That doesn’t sit well with some city councilors or Ron Michaud, a school board member from Saco.

The budget would add $1.70 to the city’s property tax rate. The $22.1 million municipal budget will add an additional 90 cents. City Councilor Marston Lovell said that would add nearly $500 to the tax bill for a home valued at $231,000, the average for the city.

Lovell, who proposed that $30,000 be set aside from the city’s contingency fund, said he did so in anticipation of a backlash over increased property taxes. His motion was supported unanimously by the council. Lovell expects the school budget could cause “consternation” with some residents, who may want to explore withdrawing from the school unit.

Lovell said there is no organized movement for withdrawal but some residents are frustrated because “costs haven’t been controlled by the RSU.”

Lovell said there is a perception in Saco that the city’s taxpayers are subsidizing Old Orchard Beach. Curtis said that “couldn’t be further from the truth.”

“Saco is not a victim of the RSU. Old Orchard Beach is not the villain of the RSU,” Curtis said. “What is happening to the taxes in Saco has no connection to what is happening in the Old Orchard Beach schools.”

Michaud, a former Saco mayor who supports withdrawal and voted against the budget, said he has not seen savings that he expected when the district was formed.

“I just don’t see the future of this whole thing,” he said. “We were better off before.”

Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

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