PARIS — A change in the way the Oxford Hills Technical School and other CTE schools across the state are funded may mean that local taxpayers could be off the hook, said Director Shawn Lambert.
In January, the Department of Education informed career and technical high schools that beginning in FY 2019 (July 1, 2018 – June 30, 2019) the state allocation for CTE (Career and Techincal Education) will be based on an EPS (Essential Programs and Services) funding model instead of the traditional expenditure-based system.
EPS-based CTE budgeting means the state allocation for CTE will be based on a program-driven cost model, which calculates state subsidy on the following components: direct instruction, central administration, supplies, operation and maintenance of plant, other student and staff support and a three-year average student enrollment of approved courses. Equipment costs are not included in the calculation.
Currently, the state’s allocation is based on all expenditures for two years prior plus 1.5 percent and then divided into local and state contribution which in the case of RSU 10 is 60 percent state and 40 percent local.
Essentially the new funding program replaces both state and local share for the costs included in the model. DOE officials say it should provide relief to assessment payments sending schools would have received. Local assessments will only be necessary for costs outside or above the EPS model, according to DOE officials.
“This is a big change in how career and technical education schools are funded,” said Lambert, who reviewed the new funding method with the MVR 11 directors at its February 8 meeting.
“We are still assessing what these changes mean to the programming we offer and to the communities we serve,” Lambert told the Advertiser Democrat. “Although we are disappointed that the EPS model does not adequately support the high level of career training we currently offer, it would appear that the taxpayers may benefit from the state funding 100 percent of the model amount.”
The preliminary FY19 $3,153,240 budget has been developed and is $196,290 over the “hold harmless” amount (which is 100 percent state funding) and $660,395 over the EPS model amount, (which would have to be picked up by taxpayers in the SAD 17 and RSU 10 districts.)
The OHTS budget is included as the overall SAD 17 budget number for the Oxford Hills School District which is approved in a two-step voting process by voters in all eight district towns each June. Voters in RSU 10 go through the same process.
The OHTS budget is only separated out during the budget meeting as one of approximately 15 articles presented to voters for approval in the SAD 17 district. The total budget number is then validated at the referendum ballot the following week.
For example, at last year’s SAD 17 budget meeting on June 8, 2017, Lambert outlined his $3,548,340 Fiscal 2018 budget to voters. It was a 5.69 percent decrease from the $3,762,485 Fiscal 2017 approved budget and represented about 10 percent of the proposed overall $39.6 million SAD 17 budget. Voters at the budget hearing approved it as part of the overall budget warrant.
On June 12, 2017, the majority of voters in the eight SAD 17 towns then validated the entire $39.6 million budget.
Of that total number, Lambert told the Advertiser Democrat, SAD 17 taxpayers paid 49.5 percent of the SAD 17 budget which included the OHTS budget.
“So in effect, they paid 49.5 percent of the OHTS budget,” he said.
Lambert said that with the change of CTE funding coming 100 percent from the state, he is not sure how it will be presented to voters.
“The law seems unclear to me,” he said. “However, our cooperative agreement with SAD 17 and RSU 10 still calls for the OHTS budget to be part of their budgets so it will probably be presented within theirs.”
If the district ends up budgeting above EPS, the additional funds will be the responsibility of the local taxpayers, probably through the eight towns representing SAD 17 plus and Buckfield, Hartford and Sumner in RSU 10, he said.
If the budget entails going above EPS, it is possible it will go before the voters in a separate referendum question as it did last year for the first time, when budget hearing voters allowed the district to spend $1.1 million more than required by the EPS funding model. That allowance was also validated at the following referendum ballot.
The school board will be reviewing the budget in the coming weeks. Members must determine whether they wish to ask voters to exceed the EPS amount and determine how that will be accomplished.
The plan has not yet gone through the Appropriations Committee, but Lambert told the school board it is unlikely to make any significant changes. The funding formula has already been approved.