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Low turnout for 'noncontroversial' Region 18 school budget referendum

A small number of Lyme and Old Lyme voters approved the $34.87 million Region 18 education budget by a large margin at a referendum on Tuesday.

A total of 328 voters supported the 2021-22 spending plan, with 55 opposed. The vote was 249-50 in Old Lyme and 79-5 in Lyme. The totals include eight votes cast by absentee ballots in Old Lyme and two in Lyme, according to the town clerk from each town.

Old Lyme voter turnout came in at 5.0%, based on a total of registered 5,992 voters. Lyme voters turned out at a rate of 4.2%, based on 1,979 voters.

Lyme-Old Lyme Superintendent of Schools Ian Neviaser said Wednesday he was very pleased with the outcome.

"We were glad to see our community is so incredibly supportive of our schools and have been for many, many years," he said.

Neviaser acknowledged the 383 total votes cast this year was lower than usual.

Procedural changes this year included a shorter voting day and a new polling place for Old Lyme voters.

"Between COVID, the rainy day, the change of venue, the change of time, I'm not too surprised," he said. "Add in a somewhat noncontroversial budget, as well."

Numbers provided by the district show turnout over the past five years ranged from 474 voters in 2017 to a high of 880 voters in 2019, when the district introduced a full-day, universal preschool program.

Old Lyme Democratic Registrar of Voters Marylin Clarke said the town asked for voting hours to be shortened from the usual 6 a.m.-8 p.m. timeframe to this year's noon-8 p.m. window.

"It's slow, particularly in the morning, and there didn't seem to be a need for it," she said. "Everyone seemed to vote that wanted to vote with just the 12-8, and it worked fine."

The total 2021-22 Region 18 schools' budget represents an increase of $162,917, or 0.47%, over the current budget. It comprises an operating budget of $31.83 million, up 0.85% compared to this year, and $3.05 million in debt service, down $106,458 from this year.

Despite the slight spending increase, Old Lyme and Lyme will be paying less for education than they did this year due to unspent cash being returned to the towns from the district fund balance.

Both towns are obligated to pay a portion of their annual town budgets to the school system. The amount is based on the percentage of students in each town. In the newly approved budget, Old Lyme will pay 81.8% of district costs, while Lyme will pay 18.2%.

The 2021-22 bill for each town shakes out to $28.41 million for Old Lyme and $6.32 million for Lyme. The reduction means Old Lyme will be paying $547,091 less than it spends currently, while Lyme will pay $383,281 less.

The budget includes staffing increases to serve the district's roughly 1,300 students amid rising enrollment. Neviaser said the district is expecting about 30 more kindergarten students next year than typically come through the doors.

The additional positions include three elementary teachers, one technology facilitator and part-time positions in elementary physical education and art.


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