FARMINGTON — As the RSU 9 board works to finalize its 2017-2018 budget proposal, Jodi Cordes, Franklin Community Health Network physician recruiter, said contention over the budget in recent years has made recruiting efforts more difficult.

“It was really hard, I will say, last year, wondering how to try to show the community in a good light when the signs were all around the community about vote ‘yes,’ vote ‘no’ for the school (budget),” Cordes said. “You’re trying to say how awesome the community is, and they’re saying there are so many people against the schools. What’s wrong with the schools?”

The RSU 9 board of directors is scheduled to deliver its recommendations Tuesday for the district’s 2017-2018 budget. Voters will have a chance to weigh in on that budget May 31, then again at the annual budget referendum, on June 13. But as the district pushes to address previous years’ budget shortfalls, tensions have flared between RSU 9 town residents who view the budget as an overly bloated burden on local taxpayers and those who see increasing school funding as key to creating new forms of economic opportunity in Franklin County.

At the heart of the conflict is a long-debated question about whether and to what extent funding affects student performance. Those pushing for higher budgets argue that schools, especially those in lower-income areas, often need to stabilize students in order to make them able to learn effectively. For some students, that might mean providing clothing and meals, or mental health or behavioral counseling. For others it means intensive one-on-one tutoring to get them up to the same educational level as their classmates.

Since he started work in 2013 as RSU 9’s superintendent, Thomas Ward also has pushed for higher salaries for staff members, saying the district has been losing more experienced teachers and administrators to neighboring school districts where they can make an additional $8,000 a year. Schools feel that loss in the classroom, Ward said, especially when it comes to the classroom environment.

“When you’ve got somebody who at least has five years’ experience, you’ve got a different teacher, because your discipline issues go down,” Ward said. “Our goal is for everyone to have the same classroom climate that’s conducive to learning, so you have to have a disciplined classroom climate; and if you don’t, there are kids in there suffering because they can’t improve academically.”

Critics of RSU 9’s rising school budgets say the tax burden on local property owners is becoming unsustainable, especially in communities with elderly or declining populations. Bob Neal, a selectman in New Sharon who helped build seven budgets during his years on the SAD 9 board, said his own property tax bill has doubled since the town’s 2007 revaluation.

“The local share is just continuing to go up at a much faster rate than incomes or economic growth can justify,” Neal said.

Neal also points to research demonstrating that increases in school funding do not necessarily result in better student performance. One 2014 study by the libertarian Cato Institute charted SAT scores dating back to 1972 against rising school funding rates over the same period and found the two did not appear to be related.

“The performance of 17-year-olds has essentially been stagnant across all subjects despite a near tripling of the inflation-adjusted cost of putting a child through the K-12 system,” the study’s authors wrote.

But other researchers say it’s when funding is targeted toward the highest-need students that schools see the greatest improvement.