Possible state aid reduction for SAD 17

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PARIS — Preliminary state subsidy figures show the Oxford Hills School District could see a reduction of slightly more than $210,000 in the 2016-17 state share for local education.

“It isn’t huge, but it’s a hit compared to last year,” Superintendent Rick Colpitts said when asked for his initial reaction to the preliminary funding projections that were released about two weeks ago.

Last year the district saw an increase of $892,022 in the local share when the state determined the value of the district had increased by 14 percent while the value of the state has decreased by 5 percent.

Voters from the district’s eight member towns – Paris, Norway, Oxford, Harrison, Waterford, West Paris, Hebron and Otisfield – approved the $38.2 million budget last June. Approval of this year’s budget is set for June 9 with the follow-up budget validation referendum on June 14.

The Maine Department of Education issued preliminary state subsidy numbers for the 2016-17 year on Jan. 29, but the figures are just that preliminary, Colpitts said.

The 2016-17 preliminary amounts are based on the currently enacted biennial budget and do not represent final action of the 127th Maine Legislature. Final numbers are not available until after the Legislature enacts the budget. The distribution of the preliminary figures are done to help guide local school districts in their budget-making process.

SAD 17 Business Manager Cathy Fanjoy Coffey said the total state subsidy is currently set at $17,823,897. This includes the general subsidy of $15,882,140 and the debt service allocation of $1,941,756 for the total projected state subsidy of $17,823,897.

“That is down $212,235 from last year,” she said.

The operating allocation number is a combination of state and local funds and doesn’t include special ed, transportation, vocational costs or debt service, Coffey added.

The state calculates subsidies using a complex, and some say controversial, formula to determine the amount of money a school district needs from the state in order to provide students with basic educational needs – known as the essential programs and services.

The Department of Education defines the Essential Programs and Services as a program 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.

The EPS model provides a basis for adequacy and greater equity in the funding of K-12 education because it is cost driven instead of expenditure driven.

Colpitts said the state subsidy is based on a number of factors including most significantly valuations.

Schools provide the Department of Education with annual data including student headcount, (based on October and April numbers, said Colpitts,) debt (either accumulated or paid off each year,) the town’s tax valuation and other factors, which are used in the formula to determine how much of the subsidy pool each school district gets.

Towns like Jay, Rumford and Bucksport other cities with mills that have closed probably see a higher amount of state aid because their valuation has a dropped significantly. It’s the same pool of money, just divided up differently, he said.

“If [state subsidy] drops it means their valuation has increased faster than everyone else,” Colpitts said.

Colpitts said sometimes a school district will see a drop in state subsidies when debt is paid off. For example, the district has been paying off loans from the high school, construction for the past 15 to 20 years and as that debt has been paid off (it is reimbursed by the state), the subsidies drop.

Budget schedule

Colpitts said SAD 17 department head and administrative budgets have been developed and after the February school vacation – during the week of the 15th – he will sit down and go over proposed budgets line by line with each department head and administrator.

“Around the first week in March I should have first blush of whether we’re up or down,” said Colpitts of the district’s budget numbers.

The budget committee is set to meet Wednesday, March 2, to develop a schedule, set priorities, review the process and elect a chairman.

On Wednesday, March 9, the committee will begin its review of cost centers, beginning with athletics, athletics, music, art library, elementary schools and adult education

The following week on Wednesday, March 16, facilities, technology, transportation, health services, special education, the high school and central office cost centers will be reviewed.

On Wednesday, March 23, the committee will review staffing needs and the budget gap and finalize the preliminary budget in anticipation of the Monday, April 4 meeting when the superintendent presents the budget to the school board.

This year, the administration hopes to meet with constituents and town officials at each of the eight town’s selectmen’s meeting. Last year those meetings were cancelled when the Legislature failed to pass a budget until the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

Previously school administrators held information meetings in each of the towns but they were attended only a few or no residents for the most part. Colpitts said he hopes more people will come out to a regularly schedule selectmen’s meeting to hear the impact of the new school budget on their town this year.

Meanwhile residents who would like to keep track of the budget building process can access the document online at http://lists.sad17.k12.me.us/dbudget/index.php.

The award-winning “dbudget” was started in 1998 and allows people to access different cost centers and see the budget being built as new numbers are plugged in.

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net