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February 02. 2013 10:58PM

Middleton: Budget cut supported, school bus proposals remain

MIDDLETON - While residents cut the proposed operating budget Saturday, the community must decide whether to acquire three new school buses and study school options this year.

Residents will elect district officials and decide on all district matters when polls open March 12 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the Old Town Hall along Kings Highway.

Because there are fewer students in the community this year, residents agreed to decrease the proposed operating budget by $110,000 - even though they kept a buffer in case new children move to town, something that has created a deficit in the past.

As amended, Article 4 would appropriate $3,545,599, which is $321,787 - or 9 percent - lower than last year's budget of $3,867,386.

If residents reject the proposed budget, a default budget of $3,647,517 will be enacted, and the district can hold a special meeting to discuss a revised operating budget.

While residents decided against a petition to withdraw from the Authorized Regional Enrollment Area (AREA) plan with Farmington last year, Article 11 asks voters to reconsider and allow area officials to study the feasibility and suitability of withdrawing from the agreement, which was enacted in 1972.

Currently Middleton, which has been sending students in Farmington for decades, pays tuition to educate its students in Farmington schools. Based on a vote in Farmington last year, officials from both communities are in the process of reviewing and updating the AREA agreement.

If approved, a committee - which includes two members from the Farmington School Board, two from Middleton's School Board, two local selectmen and the superintendent as a nonvoting member - will be formed. Once established, it would have 180 days to submit its findings to the state Board of Education. If the state determines that the plan is suitable, residents will have to decide on the matter.

The district is asking residents to buy or lease three school buses to replace its aging fleet, which cost $35,000 to repair this year alone.

"Our buses are really in bad shape," school board member John Mammone said, adding the two newest buses - from 2006 - are in worse condition than older models.

Mammone said one bus, which has a broken frame, is no longer serviceable, leaving no spare vehicle for emergencies.

If approved, Article 6 would purchase a school bus for $81,336 by withdrawing $35,000 from a capital reserve fund, using up to $11,500 from the school bus repair budget and paying the $34,836 balance through taxation.

Additionally, Articles 7 and 8 ask residents to enter a four-year lease for $83,000 and a five-year lease for $83,980, respectively. The two leases would cost $20,750 and $16,796 annually, which would be raised by drawing $11,500 from the bus repair budget for each article and drawing the remaining balance of $9,250 and $5,296, respectively, from taxation.

If any of the bus articles fail at the polls, Article 9 asks residents to add $25,000 to the School Bus CRF.



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