Oxford Hills School District may be way over EPS budget

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MEETING OF THE MINDS — Legislators met Monday, Feb. 6, with the SAD 17 Board of Directors to hear a presentation from Superintendent Rick Colpitts and field questions from the board. From left, are Rep. Phyllis Ginzler, R-Bridgton, Rep. Tom Winsor, R-Norway, Rep. Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford, Rep. Lloyd "Skip" Herrick, R-Paris, and Sen. Jim Hamper, R-Oxford.

By Leslie H. Dixon

PARIS — Superintendent Rick Colpitts told the SAD 17 Board of Directors and regional state legislators that based on preliminary figures, the district could be $2.2 million over the recommended Essential Programs and Services budget in the fiscal 2018 budget.

MEETING OF THE MINDS — Legislators met Monday, Feb. 6, with the SAD 17 Board of Directors to hear a presentation from Superintendent Rick Colpitts and field questions from the board. From left, are Rep. Phyllis Ginzler, R-Bridgton, Rep. Tom Winsor, R-Norway, Rep. Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford, Rep. Lloyd “Skip” Herrick, R-Paris, and Sen. Jim Hamper, R-Oxford.

About $1.4 million of that is simply due to a shift in where the money is coming from. Taxpayers will not be asked to raise that amount. Another estimated $700,000 or $800,000 within that EPS figure are typical year-to-year costs, such as salaries and health insurance, and other costs. That amount may be requested in the upcoming budget process. All budget requests still have to go before the Budget Committee and then to the full School Board and voters later this spring.

“Although our budget-to-budget increase will be similar to previous years, the shift in student residences and a reduction in the proposed mil rate will put the district over EPS by $2,296,871,” Colpitts explained to those present at the Monday, Feb. 6 Board of Directors meeting including five state legislators.

“All because of some shifting sands,” Colpitts said of why the school district may go over the EPS funding requirement for the first time in 15 years.

Essential Programs and Services (EPS) is designed to insure that all schools have the programs and resources that are essential for all students to have an equitable opportunity to achieve Maine’s Learning Results, according to the Department of Education.

The state uses a complex – and some say controversial – EPS formula to determine the minimum amount of money a school district needs from the state to provide students with basic educational needs. The state subsidy is based on a number of factors, including property valuations. It does not include money for items such as athletics and extra curricular activities.

The district has struggled to meet the minimum requirement for years. The state has failed to fully raise its share of the funding while local taxpayers have shouldered the burden increasingly over the years.

The preliminary budget  figure is based on projected fiscal 2018 numbers that assumes a mil rate of $8.29 per $1,000 of assessed value for the local share under the Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed budget and 40 fewer students in what are called low receiver towns where the town pays 100 percent of the education costs.

Colpitts outlined the implications of the proposed governor’s budget Monday night to five local members of the Legislature – Rep. Kathleen Dillingham. R-Oxford, Rep. Phyllis Ginzler, R-Bridgton, Rep. Tom Winsor, R-Norway, Sen. Jim Hamper, R-Oxford, and Rep. Lloyd “Skip” Herrick, R-Paris.

Colpitts said he is guesstimating budget increases including $555,488 in a bond payment; $500,000 in salaries; $815,015 for health insurance and other known needs in the amount of $136,869. This is a total preliminary increase of $896,396 and is only a guesstimate. The numbers have not gone before the Budget Committee or School Board yet, Colpitts said.

Other issues

Colpitts pointed out items in the governor’s budget that may be problematic for districts like SAD 17, including what he says is the singling out district administration by forcing districts to consolidate but is “unfairly” penalizing districts that already consolidated and have collaborative services.

CHANGES — Superintendent Rick Colpitts told area legislators and the Board of Directors that the governor’s budget recommends changes to 48 sections of the Essential Programs and Services model.

“This is punishing schools that got together 60 years ago,” he said.

Colpitts also noted that the governor’s proposed budget gives “extra weight” to students in grades kindergarten through three, but removes funding for pre-kindergarten.

“We all know how important and effective that is,” he said of the pre-k program.

He said the governor’s budget also does not address issues identified in the state-funded Picus Associates Report that identified additional support for disadvantaged students and special education services and other students services. Special education costs are soaring, he said.

Representative Winsor, who is the ranking minority member on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, said he doesn’t know at this point how the governor’s budget will affect education and he intends to keep an “open mind.”

“Your process and ours don’t jive very well. It’s so early in our process,” he said of the state’s budget process that is just beginning.

Hamper, the Senate chair of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, said the biennial budget work will begin around Monday, Feb. 13.

School Board directors, like Barry Patrie, said the delay in state budget approval was unfair to communities and school districts like SAD 17 who must make budget guesses sometimes because of the lack of state budget information.

Ginzler did, however, strongly suggest that the superintendent not count on part of the the $157 million promised from the Question 2 referendum ballot that would additionally tax families with annual incomes more than $200,000.

“It is fiction,” she said of the money.

School Director Stacia Cordwell expressed displeasure over the budget cuts when the school classrooms continue to be overcrowded and lower grade students in particular are seeing cuts in services.

She challenged the changes to the current casino funding legislation that removes the requirement that it be used to supplement the education budget rather than supplant.

“People forget that promises were made and promises need to be kept,” said Herrick of the proposal.

“It’s up to you guys to appropriate money so we don’t end up with all of it falling on local property taxes,” Director Bob Jewell stressed to the legislators.

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net