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MSAD 72 School Superintendent Jay Robinson says because wording on a referendum question is wrong, school voting will have to be rescheduled for August. (FILE PHOTO)

FRYEBURG, Maine — Due to an error in the MSAD 72 school district ballot, an emergency meeting will be held today at 6:30 p.m. at the Molly Ockett School in Fryeburg to discuss rectifying the situation with a do-over ballot vote in August.

MSAD 72 covers the Maine towns of Brownfield, Denmark, Fryeburg, Lovell, Stoneham, Stow, Sweden and just over the line in New Hampshire, Chatham.

Instead of having a district meeting, in May, COVID necessitated voting by ballot on July 14 in each of the towns. July 14 is also the state primary day and referendum questions.

On Friday, MSAD-72 Superintendent Jay Robinson announced a change in plans. He said lawyers from Drummond and Woodsum who prepare the referendum documents found an error on the ballot regarding the amount of money needed from local taxpayers.

At nearly $10 million, erroneously stated amount of money needed to be raised from local towns was little under $3 million short. In total, the proposed budget, which includes funding from other sources, is $21.4 million.

"Unfortunately, the only method of rectifying the situation is to cancel the July 14 budget referendum and establish a date for a new budget approval referendum, which we are planning to set for Aug. 18," Robinson said in an email. "The MSAD 72 Board of Directors will have an emergency meeting on July 7 to take these necessary actions."

One of items of new business on tonight's emergency meeting agenda is to "vote to cancel the July 14, 2020, budget referendum, to approve notice of public hearing, and call a new budget referendum and approve warrants and notices of election." 

There are public comment periods at the beginning and end of the meeting. 

If approved, there will be a virtual public hearing for the budget on Aug. 4 at 7 p.m. Instructions for how to participate will be posted at MSAD72.org.

Robinson said the lawyers that flagged the error "are very talented and good at what they do, and we use them in all situations where we have a referendum," said Robinson.

"In this case, the governor's office delayed putting out information about how towns and schools could work through finalizing a budget until very late in the process, and unfortunately this put the lawyers creating these documents in a very difficult position without clear direction from anyone at the state level."

Any question related to the budget will need to be voted on again. The election of school board members is unaffected and will still be voted on July 14.

Town officials are urging people to vote absentee. Absentee ballots already cast will be retained by the Superintendent's Office and be public record.

At the June 25 selectmen's meeting, Selectman Kimberly Clarke noted that no one is running for school board in Fryeburg this year. Fryeburg belongs to MSAD 72.

"We need to send an appeal out to the community asking people to step up because we, you know, we definitely want representation on the school board," said Clark.

According to MSAD72.org, Fryeburg has two members — Kim DeVries and Marie Struven— whose terms are expiring, and one position is vacant.

According to a document provided by Robinson, the budget is determined by the state using the essential programs and services model. The state sets a statewide mill rate ($8.18 this year) that every town is required to raise for its share of education costs. For each town, those costs are determined by the percentage of pupils.

If the town’s costs within the state formula are in excess of its share based on pupil count and the town’s valuations, then the state pays the remainder of the educational costs. Because of high valuations, four towns (Denmark, Lovell, Stoneham and Sweden) do not receive state subsidy, except for a portion of the bond payments (debt service) for the new building project.

The good news is school officials found away to keep the overall cost to taxpayers lower than last year. However, the tax impact varies by town. Fryeburg residents will see a 5.4 percent decrease in tax dollars while Sweden will see a 6 percent increase.

"In terms of the specifics of the proposed budget, what we would most like voters to understand is that we were very conscious of the financial impact of the pandemic on taxpayers in the development of the budget,"  Robinson said in a statement to voters he sent to the Sun June 12.

"To lessen that impact, we have applied a total of $1.2 million of funds that were not spent in the FY20 and prior budgets to offset town assessments. This results in towns collectively paying $300,661 less even though the budget-to-budget increase is 3.28 percent ($681,896)."

The July 14 ballot had four questions. Question 1 is for the proposed $21.4 million budget. Question 2 pertains to giving the school board permission to transfer money within the budget. Question 3 asks for $32,000 for an adult education program. Question 4 allows the school board to transfer up to $65,000 from the fund balance to the capital reserve fund and to expend $67,000 from the reserve fund to pay for minor repairs to New Suncook School and the purchase of a truck and sander for Molly Ockett School.

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