BELFAST — Ten days after overwhelmingly rejecting SAD 34’s proposed $10.3 milllion budget, district voters reversed themselves and passed the budget without deducting so much as $1.
The budget passed by a vote of 166-33. A non-binding straw vote on the proposed middle school also had a favorable result as far as the school board was concerned. The straw vote result was 150 in favor, 104 opposed.
Superintendent of Schools Fran Wills, although pleased with the results of both votes, said she did not view the decision as a victory.
“It’s not a victory,” Wills said. “It’s only a resolution of the democratic process. There are still a lot of people out there who are dissatisfied with the whole budget process.”
Wills attributed most of the public wrath to the “unfortunate” fact that education is paid for by property taxes. She said that when other costs such as health care rise, the public is excluded. Schools, on the other hand, are right out front, Wills said.
“Schools are the only place where people can vent their feelings. I understand the concerns but it’s a shame the target has to be education. Of all our institutions, that is the most important,” Wills said.
Throughout Thursday’s meeting Wills remained adamant that the budget was fair and that each dollar was needed. She said the budget was established after a “very exhaustive process” and urged the public to support it. Wills said the district now had its financial health in order and had balanced this year’s accounts, whereas the district had a $350,000 deficit. She said that where last year’s package resulted in a 30 percent tax increase, this year’s tax impact will be 5 percent.
“From our point of view we came in with an honest budget,” Wills said. “As an edecutational leader I had to compromise in very many ways. I had to think about what this community could bear. … This is a different type of educational setting than existed years ago. There is a great deal of difference between doing the least harm and the most good.”
Wills also acknowledged that despite last week’s defeat of a $1 million bond to be spent on upgrading the district’s buildings, she planned to ask the board for money to cover the cost of some of those repairs. Wills stated firmly that the buildings were in dire need of repair and that she had no intention of ignoring them.
Although the budget’s passage was a foregone conclusion from the outset, the public had an opportunity to argue its merits when Belfast resident Richard McGray suggested slashing it by $1.14 million, the amount above the district’s state subsidy.
After a lengthy discussion, McGray’s motion was defeated 215-91. Although many residents, includeing some retired educators, spoke in favor of cutting the budget, the sentiments of the majority were expressed by Clara Rollerson of Belfast.
Rollerson reminded the gathering that senior citizens were dependent on younger taxpayers for their Social Security checks. She said their benefactors’ children needed their assistance in return.
“They are paying our Social Security, remember,” Rollerson said to tumultuous applause. “I’m damn proud to pay my taxes for education. … Remember, if they (the workers) turn against us, we’re … without any money.”