May 21, 2019

Lincoln, Chester panels back budget law> Legislation would require town officials to approve funds for school districts

LINCOLN — Officials representing two of the three towns in SAD 67 are supporting legislation that would require school district budgets to be approved by town officials.

In separate meetings, the Lincoln Town Council and the Chester Board of Selectmen on Monday strongly endorsed LD 697, an Act to Give Municipal Officials Oversight of School Administrative District Budgets. Officials will urge the Legislature to support the bill.

Town officials in Mattawamkeag, also part of SAD 67, will discuss the proposal when they meet on March 3.

“There is a mad public out there, and I mean a mad public,” said John Weatherbee, a Lincoln council member. He hoped an SAD 67 board member would attend the council meeting to explain why they granted school administrators a 3 percent pay increase along with adding dental insurance to their benefit package.

No SAD 67 representatives attended the council’s meeting because the school board was meeting at the same time.

Weatherbee said a well-respected schoolteacher told him that some everyday classroom materials had been cut out or cut back despite budget approval by voters last June. Teachers in the past have been consulted about cuts to ensure basic courses offered students were not hurt, yet this year teachers were not consulted, Weatherbee said.

“This is proof that the administration is taking the dollars at the expense of the children,” said Diana Johnston, a Lincoln councilor. She said the public had supported school budget increases with the belief they would benefit the children.

Other council members disputed some of the information in a school document outlining efforts the school board took to maintain a flat budget. They questioned reductions in personnel and disputed a statement that no pay increases had been given during the last five years.

Lincoln Chairman Dave Joyce, quoting the school document, said SAD 67’s spending had increased by $94,083 during the past five years while lost nearly $360,000 in state subsidy over the same period.

“When I have a reduction in my income, I certainly do not increase my spending,” Joyce said.

The council chairman said $3,839,808.05 was raised from local property taxes for town and school operations. He said 61 percent was to support schools.

“It is these three towns who put out the tax bills and when taxes go up we get the heat,” he said.

Joyce challenged SAD 67 officials to meet with officials of Lincoln, Chester and Mattawamkeag.

Lincoln officials said in their resolution that members of the SAD 67 board do not consult with them to determine the effect any school budget increase might have on local taxes. Officials say they were forced to raise the town’s tax rate by $1.35 per $1,000 of assessed value to cover the increase in the 1996-1997 school budget.

In Chester, Galen V. Libby Jr., chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said town and school officials should work more closely together. “We have suggested [to SAD 67 officials] that they have members of the council and the two groups of selectmen involved in the budget process,” Libby said.

In Chester, 85 percent of local taxes are spent to support school operations. In Mattawamkeag, 61 percent of local taxes are spent to support education in the school district.

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