Regional School Unit 1’s proposed budget for next year is up 12.78% over current spending. Without a required bond payment on the new Morse High School — now under construction — the increase would have been just 3.11%. Courtesy RSU 1

BATH — Regional School Unit 1’s proposed $38.2 million budget for next year, which drew no public comment prior to a final hearing Monday, goes before voters July 14.

The fiscal year 2021 budget could raise district-wide taxes 2.1%. For a home valued at $200,000 in each community, the tax hike from the school budget alone could be $41.32 in Arrowsic, $15.74 in Phippsburg and $9.74 in Woolwich, while Bath could see a $10.62 reduction, according to RSU 1 Business Manager Debra Clark.

The spending plan is up 12.78% over current spending. Without a required bond payment on the new Morse High School — now under construction — the increase would have been just 3.11%, according to school officials.

Another question on the ballot concerns a proposed school revolving renovation fund, which Superintendent Patrick Manuel said would pay for conversion from steam to hot water systems and health abatements at the Dike Newell elementary school in Bath. They were projects RSU 1 officials planned to do with local funds, but the state Department of Education has awarded the district a loan of about $365,000 at zero interest, of which the Maine Municipal Bond Bank will forgive 51%. The district will pay the nearly $179,000 remaining over five years; the first payment is in next year’s budget.

Voters will also decide whether to raise $215,000 for RSU 1’s school nutrition program. While that expenditure is part of the district’s budget, the state Department of Education recommends it be raised as a separate article, Clark said. That cost center is down $10,000, meaning that the gap between revenues and expenditures has dropped from $225,000 to $215,000. The program serves about 1,850 students.

The School Board last month shaved the spending plan’s tax hike from 3.4% to 2.1%, in wake of the economic strains on many RSU 1 residents during the coronavirus pandemic.

The first $3.2 million principal bond payment on the new Morse High will largely cause RSU 1’s debt service to increase from $3.4 million to $7.3 million – a $3.9 million increase. Of the $16.7 million in state aid to education RSU 1 is due to receive – $3.4 million more than for fiscal year 2020 – $2.9 million is offsetting the $3.2 million local burden, which helps reduce the tax impact, according to Clark.

Regular instruction, which at $11.8 million comprises the largest cost center, is up 0.71%, accounting for salary and benefits for regular classroom teachers, as well as supplies. Special education, at $6.3 million, is up 6.83%, and funds four educational technicians instead of contracting with a private firm for behavioral health providers. That amount also pays for special education staff benefits, outside tuition places, and individual treatment costs.

Student and staff support, at nearly $3 million, is down $99,000 since RSU 1 already purchased new K-5 literacy materials this year, allowing those expenditures to be removed from next year’s budget.

“I believe that we’re putting forward a responsible budget,” said RSU 1 board Chairman Steve August. “… We recognize that we’ve lost the opportunity to engage the public by having to put off the (district budget) meeting; we’ll be back at it next year.”

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