SAD 17 preliminary budget shows local tax increase

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PARIS — SAD 17 directors were told Monday, March 7 that preliminary budget figures indicate a 3.46 percent increase in local taxes may be necessary in order to fund the next fiscal year’s proposed education budget.

“If the expenditure budget was final at this point, and the carryover amount and state subsidy amount stays the same, we would have to increase local assessments by $681,423 (a 3.46 percent increase in local taxes for education) in order to fund the budget,” explained Business Manager Cathy Coffey. “That increase is $804,597 more than what the state EPS formula indicates is the minimum amount the district should spend next year.”

The state uses a complex — and some say controversial — formula to determine the amount of money a school district needs from the state to provide students with basic educational needs. The program is known as Essential Programs and Services. The state subsidy is based on a number of factors, including property valuations.

While budget numbers are preliminary, Coffey told the Advertiser Democrat after the meeting that school officials are “almost certain” they will have to exceed EPS this year. The question is by how much, she said.

During a nearly 90-minute budget workshop and preliminary budget review, Coffey and Superintendent Rick Colpitts told directors that voters will be asked to approve the additional spending above what the state’s Essential Program and Services allocation model says the district needs in order to meet a projected $39,174,593 school budget.

“I don’t believe we can get by with EPS funding only. It would mean dramatic reductions in personnel,” said Colpitts.

Colpitts gave testimony Monday at the State House spoke before members of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee to advocate for an additional $20 million in state aid to school districts across the state to prevent what many believe is an unsustainable tax shift onto local taxpayers.

Coffey told directors that some local officials have already indicated they will not support the request for money over the EPS.

The projected increase includes about $500,000 in teacher salary increases, another $200,000 in added health insurance costs, $400,000 more primarily for out of district special education costs and other monies for facility needs and increased transportation costs.

The request does not include $1.1 million necessary to bond school roof replacements and paving needs throughout the district.

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

Budget Committee members are continuing to refine the budget and numbers are expected to shift during that time. Monday night’s presentation was based on the first draft of the proposed budget.

In other meeting news, the directors heard a presentation from Curriculum Director Heather Manchester, Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School Principal Ted Moccia and Oxford Hills Middle School Principal Troy Eastman on proficiency-based diplomas. SAD 17 students must meet the requirements beginning in 2021.

Proficiency-based education requires students to demonstrate mastery of the knowledge and skills they are expected to learn before they progress to the next lesson, get promoted to the next grade level or receive a diploma, according to state statute. Local educators say it is “visible learning” for students.

The law states students need to graduate with a diploma certifying proficiency in all the content areas, including foreign language, career preparation and in the state’s Guiding Principles (such as requiring students to be clear and effective communicators and a responsible and involved citizens), which is part of Maine’s learning standards.

Manchester told directors Monday night there is movement afoot to reduce the requirements to perhaps just English Language Arts and mathematics and then allow students to chose two others areas to be proficient in.

Students may have other pathways they can take to prove proficiency in areas such as foreign languages, for example.

The Department of Education reported last week that Maine schools are making progress in providing students opportunity to demonstrate proficiency most often by making changes in how classroom instruction is provided.

The majority of schools, 56 percent, reported that they expect to fully implement the proficiency-based diploma system in 2021. Others are close to or ready to fully implement the mandate.

Manchester said a team of local educators has been working on the proficiency goal and have visited South Portland Middle and High schools to see what they have done. The team has also created a Faculty Grading Guide, which teachers are now following and held a parent meeting for seventh grade students to share information about the proficiency based learning.

Directors also approved:

  • a field trip for Hebron Station School sixth grade students to take an engineering field trip to the Mt. Washington Auto Road in Pinkham Notch, N.H.
  • a field trip for Hebron Station fifth and sixth grade students to Boston on March 16 and,
  • appointed director Bob Jewell to the Finance Committee.

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net