Oxford hears how district budget is determined

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BUDGET PROCESS — Oxford Hills School District Superintendent Rick Colpitts, right, told the Oxford Board of Selectmen at its March 15 board meeting, that the process to develop the FY2019 budget lasts almost year round.

OXFORD — Superintendent Rick Colpitts told the Board of Selectmen at its March 15 meeting that Oxford will see a “significant” increase in its share of the school budget, but the school is not to blame.

The state has released its subsidy numbers and because of changes to the Essential Programs and Services (EPS) formula and, in part, an increase in town and cities mil rate from 8.19 to 8.51, Oxford’s contributions will increase even  before the local contribution numbers are finalized.

“The school district had no say in this,” Colpitts told the Board of Selectmen, who had requested the meeting with Colpitts to better understand the school budget building process.

Under the EPS formula, the state determines how the student count will affect funding,  the valuation  and sets a minimum mil rate that a town has to raise toward the EPS allocation.

The state released its subsidy printouts known as the ED 279, which show how much each town has to pay locally. Because they were released in February,  the district has a  better handle on some of its budget earlier in the process.

The subsidies are based on $1.1 billion education funding package provided in the  2018/19 Biennial Budget that was enacted by the Maine Legislature.

The Biennial Budget also made some changed in the EPS funding formula, said Colpitts. Many of these changes were made to provide additional funds for classroom expenditures, including the often high-priced special education costs.

But other changes removed previous state funding from the formula, such as the cost of  system administrators. That area must be funded 100 percent locally, Colpitts told the board.

As part of the formula the Department of Education assigns each town a valuation which is provided by the Maine Revenue Service each year and is used in part to determine the town’s ability to pay local share. This year the amount will be based on an average of two years valutation, not three, which the DOE said may result in a higher required local share for some towns.

A pupil count is also used in EPS calculations and is based on an average of the previous two year’s October pupil counts (reported by each district). Previously, it was based on the average of the most recent October and April counts. Colpitts said every student who uses public education services, including, for example, a home school student who attends gym in the public school system) accounts for that overall number to some degree.

A dramatic increase or decrease in the student count can have a major impact on EPS funding. Colpitts said, unlike many other school districts statewide, the Oxford Hills School district has seen a slight increase in enrollment.

A school district’s debt service can also impact the EPS funding. SAD 17 is paying off bonds that voters approved for improvements to the Gouin athletic field and school parking lots, for example.

The budget building process continues for the next month.

Colpitts said at this time, the local budget for resources and materials is flat, but the staffing costs has yet to be determined.

Budget calendar

Work on the budget has been ongoing since last summer, beginning with an audit that is conducted of the previous fiscal year’s budget to determine the carry over. The budget is adjusted at that time to reflect the true state receipts including the amount of money taken out for Maine Care costs.

In October,  the official student count is done which helps determine the state’s contributions to a school district. In November the public portal is open and the budget building process begins.

From February through April, officials meet with cost center managers to review their requests, the Budget Committee meets and finally in April the superintendent presents his budget to the School Board on April 2.

In March, the Budget Committee meets every Wednesday beginning at 5:30 p.m. to review budgets with cost center managers and state, federal, local revenue numbers that are available are reviewed.

School administrators will meet with boards of selectmen in the eight district towns on April 3 to review the budget.

Preliminary budget meetings with communities will be held starting April 4 at the  Paris Elementary School; on April 5 at the Oxford Elementary School; on April 11 at the Hebron Station School and on April 12 at the Waterford Elementary School..

The preliminary budget will then be presented to staff.

At that point feedback from all the meetings will be collected and shared with the Budget Committee.

On May 2 the Budget Committee will finalize the budget and then it will be presented to the full board for adoption on May 7.

Voters in the eight district towns will meet in Thursday, June 7 at 7. p,m, in the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School Forum to act on the budget warrant. That vote will then be validated during the June 12 validation referendum where voters approve or do not approve the final budget number at their polling place.

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net