Near $9.25M SAD 4 budget moved to June 11 referendum

GUILFORD — A proposed 2024-25 SAD 4 budget totalling $9,247,391 was approved during the evening of May 22 at the annual district budget meeting held in the Piscataquis Community Elementary School cafeteria.

The near $9.25 million figure will now go to a referendum vote for a “yes” or “no” vote for final approval on Tuesday, June 11 at the respective polling places in the SAD 4 district communities of Abbot, Cambridge, Guilford, Parkman, Sangerville, and Wellington.

Superintendent Kelly MacFadyen said SAD 4 officials tried to be mindful of the finances needed to support students while also being mindful of those fiscally responsible for the students’ education. 

She said when work began on the 2024-25 budget late last year, there was a projected 13 percent increase from the current 2023-24 budget of $8,473,00. MacFadyen said adjustments were made to bring this increase down to about 9.4 percent, $774,391. She said a year ago the gross budget increase was over 20 percent.

During last month’s school board meeting MacFadyen said to help reduce the initial increase, one middle school position and a grade 4 teacher were cut. With transfers and retirements that meant no one lost their job. A passenger van was also taken out of the budget.

She also said SAD 4 and other school districts are facing issues with all costs increasing while revenues are not and student enrollment is trending downward.

“We felt good about that even though it’s a lot for people to come up with through a tax burden,” the superintendent said.

A slight adjustment was made during the meeting in the article concerning SAD 4’s proportional share of the Tri-County Technical Center budget. A total of $46,551 had been budgeted but “they were able to make cuts at the tech center after the board made the budget,” MacFadyen said. 

As a result SAD 4 will only need to contribute $22,804 toward TCTC in 2024-25 and the near $23,750 difference was used to adjust the SAD 4 budget during the district meeting.

This was the only one of the 22 articles making up the now $9,247,391 total that was amended as written by the approximate 55 voters in attendance over the course of 50 minutes.

The 2024-25 budget includes a figure of $3,411,348 in state allocation, an increase of just over $420,800 from the current year’s $2,990,537.

MacFadyen said the bulk of the increase is in the form of state reimbursement for out of state placements for students in resident programs SAD 4 cannot provide.

Before the TCTC adjustment, the proposed spending plan includes a combined $4,924,491 in local assessment between the six district communities. This is made up of local required — needing to be raised in order to receive the state subsidy — and local additional monies along with SAD 4’s proportional share of the Piscataquis Valley Adult Education Cooperative budget and is $432,213 more than the near $4.5 million for 2023-24. Articles for these specific items were each approved on May 22, including several legally required recorded votes .

Each community has a proportional local required figure, additional local amount, and its costs for the PVAEC. All district six towns would see an increased assessment. 

“It’s based on your town assessments and your enrollments and that’s all done at the state level,” MacFadyen said.

Abbot would have a $68,900 (7.89 percent) increase in its assessment to $942,090; Cambridge’s $343,832 share of the SAD 4 budget is up $37,096 (12.09 percent); Guilford’s share is $1,353,071, up by $106,305 (8.53 percent); Parkman would have a $76,619 (8.79 percent) increase to $948,529; Sangerville’s $1,068,107 share is up $121,560 (12.84 percent); and Wellington’s $268,958 assessment represents a $21,731 (8.79 percent) increase from 2023-24.

During the meeting, MacFadyen was asked about the status of the approximate 50-year-old Piscataquis Community Secondary School building and when this might be replaced. “It really depends on our regional high school project and we are still working through that project,” she said.

If a regional school comes to fruition then PCSS would be repurposed.

Several years ago representatives from SAD 4, SAD 41 of Milo, the Dexter-based SAD 46, and RSU 64 of Corinth met with the Maine Department of Education and were told they needed to cover the estimated $800,000 costs of an engineering study and other planning efforts before receiving $100 million in state funding to build the project. MDOE officials said the state would not fund the planning expenses, with these instead to be divided between the school units.

No districts were locked in as public votes on formally joining would be taken in the future if the project progresses.

The four districts were hesitant to spend around $200,000 apiece, and since the possibility of the MDOE funding a to-be-determined portion of the costs has been raised.

More than a half decade ago SAD 46 headed up an application between itself and SAD 4 for a $100 million first-of-its-kind secondary institution integrated with a career and technical school along with the University of Maine System and the Maine Community College System, and it would support industry training programs. Later on in the process SAD 41 joined in a non-binding agreement and then RSU 64. 

At first projects based in the Madawaska and Houlton areas ranked higher, but these proposed schools did not progress as residents could not agree on where to put the building.

MacFadyen had said SAD 4 may want to consider a collaboration with SAD 46 through the opening of a capital construction project with MDOE. She said the facilities committees in each district feel this is worthwhile and have agreed to meet to discuss further.

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