ROCKLAND, Maine — Officials from five towns joined the RSU 13 board Wednesday night to discuss the long budget process that looms from now until June. Towns told the school board that times are tough and most representatives agreed that they did not want a tax increase from the school district this year.

The goal of the meeting was to get municipal comment before the school board makes decisions with taxpayer money.

“We walk a tightrope between student needs and taxpayer needs,” said school board chairwoman Ruth Anne Hohfeld at the start of the meeting. Hohfeld said the board wanted to hear a wider view about funding schools in the six-town district.

When asked directly by school board member Esther Kilgour, most town representatives said their taxpayers do not want an increase in taxes from the school district.

“I can only urge you to be as conservative as you possibly can because our taxpayers can’t afford it,” said Brian Harden, mayor of Rockland.

A St. George representative said if the school portion of taxes is raised for her town, the municipal taxes will have to be reduced.

“You’re asking us to do less for our community by doing more for the schools,” said Ann Matlack of St. George.

Some suggestions for how to keep the district’s budget trim were to consolidate smaller schools that have as few as 57 students and not fund wage increases for employees.

“We try very, very hard to do the best we can with money,” Hohfeld said at the end of the meeting. “We will continue to do that, to try to find efficiencies.”

Superintendent Judith Lucarelli told the board that a loss of about $1 million in stimulus funds will make this year difficult, but the district is working to offset that with savings from a retirement offer, from no longer paying for high school laptops and by not buying any buses this year. Additionally, there is federal funding coming as a new sort of stimulus to help fund teacher salaries.

But overall, Lucarelli said, “it won’t be as challenging as last year — but it will be challenging.”

Last year the school district cut the budget by 9.3 percent by cutting about 30 jobs, reducing hours for other district staff members and with eliminating some extracurricular activities.

Cushing, Rockland, Owls Head, South Thomaston and St. George officials attended the round-table discussion. Thomaston was the only district town that had no representation.