SAD 17 hits milestone with EPS funding

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PARIS — For the first time, SAD 17 officials will ask voters in its eight district towns to raise and appropriate locals funds, which exceed the state’s Essential Programs and Services allocation model.

The proposed amount exceeding EPS is $1,094,849.

The simple explanation for the “overage” is that it is not an overage, but rather shifting of the fiscal responsibility from state to local taxpayers, said Superintendent Rick Colpitts.

Approval of the warrant article, which will be taken at the Thursday, June 8, district budget town meeting, is required to fund the proposed fiscal 2018 $39,688,294 school budget. By law, the vote will be a paper, hand-counted ballot. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School Forum.

If the article does not pass, the budget will go back to the school board to be cut by that same amount. School officials say items such as sports would be on the chopping block immediately.

Shifting sands

The state uses a complex – and some have said controversial – formula to determine the minimum level of funding a school district needs to ensure that schools have the programs and services essential for all students to achieve the Maine Learning Results.

The state subsidizes part of the bill, and requires the district to raise the remainder through local taxes. The state subsidy is based largely on state set property valuations and student population.

“It’s all based on the valuation and the number of students, two things we can’t control,” Colpitts said at one of four community budget public hearings held on Thursday, April 27 in Norway.

But meeting the financial requirements of EPS has been an ongoing struggle for years in SAD 17 as school officials attempted to keep the burden on local taxpayer as low as possible.

Now, for the first time, the school district is asking voters to raise not only the minimum amount required by EPS but more than $1 million above that number.

The reason is what Colpitts has been referring to as “shifting sands.”

This year, the governor’s budget removed certain things from the EPS formula that were part of the state subsidy. They include central office administration (the superintendent, fiscal and accounting and human resources department functions) and shifted that cost to the local share.

The governor’s budget also increases the student to ed tech ratios by funding fewer ed techs, removes pre-kindergarten target funds and removes funds for declining enrollment, said Colpitts.

The governor’s budget also lowered the required mills for education from 8.3 to 8.29.

The reduction in the state share plus the increases in negotiated salary and benefit packages and special ed increases impacts the SAD 17 budget by nearly $1.2 million, Colpitts said.

It is a significant loss, say local educators, and one that educators, including Colpitts, and others statewide have vehemently objected to during public hearings at the State House.

State dollars 

Although the state has been criticized for years for failing to meets its required share of state subsidies, school districts were threatened with a reduction in state funding proportional to their failure to ramp up spending to the state minimum.

In 2009, for example, the SAD 17 $36 million budget was supported by $20.17 million in state subsidies; by fiscal 2017 the state provided about $18 million.

“The reason is the red line shifted,” said Colpitts of what he has been calling “shifting sands” in the state’s share.

Colpitts said a total of seven school districts in this area spent more than the EPS requirement this fiscal year.  For example, RSU 44 spent 29 percent, or $1,861,930, more than required under EPS. RSU 10, spent more than 16 percent or $4,843,009 and RSU 61 spent $4,528,055 or 21 percent higher than the EPS minimum requirement.

Only the Lewiston School Department spent less than EPS. According to figures from fiscal 2017 Lewiston spent 2 percent under EPS or $1,292,498.

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net

EPS explained

The Essential Programs and Services law requires that school districts meet a minimum required spending plan that allows students to meet the requirements of the Maine Learning Results. The state determines that amount (so it is different for each district) based on property values and student enrollment.

The state is supposed to kick in a certain amount (55 percent of the number) but never has met that amount. Some districts, such as SAD 17, have been able to avoid meeting their 100 percent share in recent years through a waiver. They are no longer an option.  Everyone must raise the required mill rate or lose state money.

If the district doesn’t meet the amount set by the state, the state reduces its contribution by that amount. Gov. Paul LePage is proposing pulling out EPS mandates, such as superintendent and making that part of the local share, which increases the amount of money the local share is because the state share has gone down due to the governor’s proposal.