SAD 17 budget process begins as state impact concerns continue

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CONCERNING NUMBERS — SAD 17 Superintendent Rick Colpitts presents some of his concerns about Gov. Paul LePage's proposed biennial budget to the school board, staff, residents and a contingent of local area legislators last month.

PARIS — The development of the SAD 17 fiscal 2018 preliminary budget is underway, but concern remains high over how Gov. Paul LePage’s biennial budget will impact it.

“We start digging deep this week,” Superintendent Rick Colpitts told the SAD 17 Board of Directors at its Monday, March 6 meeting.

The Budget Committee had its first meeting last week on Wednesday, March 8, electing Bob Jewell as chairman. The committee began the budget building process by reviewing preliminary numbers for the technology department, elementary schools and middle and high schools. The committee will meet each Wednesday, beginning at 6 p.m. through the end of the month with different departments.

Official funding levels are not set until the budget is passed by the full Legislature and becomes law, which in a biennial year can be as late as July 1.

But getting to that point may be what most educators, including Colpitts, believe is going to be “an uphill battle.”

“My fear is we won’t know the state share until June 30,” said Colpitts.

Last week the Joint Standing Committee on Appropriations heard seven hours of testimony from educators and concerned parents and residents across the state after LePage unveiled his biennial budget. The budget, said Colpitts,  is “radically different ” than in past years.

It essentially flat funds General Purpose Aid (GPA) for schools, puts significant restrictions on how the money is spent and includes no funding for system administration, according to a memo issued by the Maine School Management Association.

Acting DOE Commissioner Susan Beaudoin said in late January that the governor’s budget is proposing major changes to the Essential Services and Programs funding formula – chief among them is a plan to not fund central office functions and support staff, superintendents and assistant superintendents, the business office and support for school boards.

Instead, she said in a memo that Colpitts handed out to SAD 17 directors at the board meeting last week, the plan is to provide incentive for regional collaborations.

The governor’s proposal takes $5.5 million each year in GPA to fund regional education service agencies that districts can contract with for services, according to Beaudoin’s memo. Another $5 million is to be taken to fund “grassroots efforts”  to reduce costs and regionalize services. Other cuts have also been proposed.

The move to eliminate funding for administration has been met with concern by the Maine School Management Association (MSMA), which points out that 26 full-time administrative positions and two superintendent/principals positions have been reduced statewide in the past 10 years. Part-time positions have increased by five.

There were 92 full-time, 34 part-time and five combination superintendent/principals statewide in 2016-17 overseeing 251 school administrative units, according to information from MSMA.

Ten years earlier there were 118 full-time, 29 part-time and seven combination superintendent/principals positions overseeing 290 school administrative units.

The net total positions, according to the MSMA, is 131 today versus 154 10 years ago.

Superintendents salaries are $12.4 million in the 2016-17 year  which is half of 1 percent of the $2.2 billion spent on kindergarten through grade 12 education, according to MSMA.

Colpitts’ concerns

Although still early in the process, Colpitts outlined his concerns about the impact of the governor’s proposed budget last month to the Board of Directors and state representatives and senators from the eight district towns.

Colpitts pointed out items in the governor’s budget that may be problematic for districts like SAD 17, in part by singling out district administration and forcing districts to consolidate. The move would “unfairly” penalizing districts that already consolidated decades ago and have collaborative services, 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, which he said has been an important and effective part of successful education in SAD 17.

He said the governor’s budget has other negative effects including not addressing issues, funding needs for disadvantaged students and special education services and other students services. Special education costs are soaring, he said.

Despite the lack of a state budget and knowing its implication on local funding, the SAD 17 Budget Committee began meeting last week to develop the local budget that will be presented to the School Board in May and residents in June for enactment.

The budget must be approved by the majority of voters in all eight district towns during the Monday, June 8 district budget hearing/meeting, beginning at 7 p.m. in the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School Forum and referendum validation at the polling places of all eight towns on Tuesday, June 13.

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net