SAD 17 returning excess state subsidy to taxpayers/towns

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PLEA —West Paris Selectmen Michael Grass, standing next to fellow Selectman Dale Piirainen, seated left, asked the SAD 17 Board of Directors to return a portion of the additional state subsidy to the district towns as promised in June.

PARIS — The majority of the SAD 17 Board of Directors supported the Budget Committee recommendation’s to return more than half-a-million dollars to the taxpayers from the additional state subsidy the district received this summer.

Despite an amendment offered by Norway Director Michael Marshall to put the earmarked $524,513 of the $1,040,000 in additional state funds into the Capital Reserve account, others argued successfully that what was promised to taxpayers during the June budget meeting should be delivered.

ROOF NEEDS — Catrina Wilson, student representative on the SAD 17 Board of Directors, observed at the Monday, Aug. 21 meeting that it would take 20 years to save the $2 million estimate to repair the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School roof if the board were to only put aside $100,000 a year. The roof has a remaining 10-year life span.

Calling it delivery of a “good faith effort” by the Board of Directors, Chairman Ron  Kugell asked his fellow board members to “keep the faith with the citizenry,” and do what the directors promised they would do if additional funding became available.

In June voters in seven of the eight district towns approved the $39.6 million budget by a vote of 1,286 to 829. The 2017-18 budget reflected a $1.47 million reduction in state subsidy and a 4.19 percent increase in local assessments.

Voters also authorized the Board of Directors to spend above the Essential Programs and Services recommendation by $1.86 million, which exceeded the EPS recommendation by $1.10 million. The state subsidy dropped about $2.3 million this year, and because of a shift in how much the state is kicking in, local funds had to make up the difference.

By taking that vote, the district avoided the state’s requirement that half of any “extra” state funds school districts received once the state budget was settled be used to lower local taxpayers cost for their schools.

Board of Direxctors Catrina Wilson student representaive

The article authorized the school board specifically to use all or part of the additional state subsidy: to increase funding for school purposes in cost center categories, add money to the reserve fund and/or decrease the local cost share expectation for taxpayers in the eight district towns.

The article was a “permissive” article, which meant the directors were not required to spend the money at all and could, if they chose, simply roll it into the Fund Balance.

Those school districts, such as SAD 17 whose directors voted to exceed EPS, were able to determine how they would spend any extra money that came their way once the state settled on school funding levels.

SAD 17 directors had agreed that some would be returned to taxpayers.

Director Natalie Andrews of West Paris implored fellow members to “pay attention” to the “very loud whisper” heard from town officials and residents who asked for a return of some of their tax money if the state came back with more money for the district.

“When Mr. (Ron) Kugell said credibility is key, it absolutely is,” she said.

Others, like Director and Budget Committee member Bob Patrie of Waterford, said the money should be added to the Capital Reserve fund to save money for the estimated $2 million replacement of the high school roof that will be needed within 10 years and for other needs in the district.

“We’re robbing our teachers and students of the best education they can get here,” Patrie said of the need to increase funding for educational purposes rather than returning it to the taxpayer.

Extra money

In addition to the $524,513 that will be returned to the district towns, the remaining $515,486 will be divvied up into the following: $25,000 for the Capital Reserve fund; $20,000 for a substitute caller; $100,000 to increase the Contingency Fund, and $35,000 for proficiency professional development, which is training staff on the mandated performance-based diplomas that will be used starting in 2021.

Another $85,000 is slated to purchase a fourth school bus. School officials said this money brings the district back into step with its attempt to purchase three or four new buses each year to keep the age of the overall fleet younger than 12 years.

A total of $120,000 will be used for a heating, air conditioning and ventilation system at the Oxford Annex. The Annex is being leased as space to bring students with exceptional needs from several districts together as a cost-saving measure. The rent will reduce the initial start up costs for SAD 17, which is the lead district in the pilot program and providing the space. Another $18,000 will be used for updating electrical service at the Oxford Annex.

A total of $5,800 will pay for a compressor at Rowe Elementary School and $12,000 for circulators at Waterford Elementary. An additional $88,686 will also be added to the Capital Reserve fund.

Selectmen from several towns including West Paris and Norway came to the meeting to support the Budget Committee’s recommendation to return money to taxpayers.

Superintendent Rick Colpitts said the money will not be returned as a check to the towns but rather through reducing the town’s monthly assessment bills. For example, towns like Norway and Oxford may see a reduction of about $100,000 while others like Hebron would see a reduction of $19,500.

In other news, the board:

  • voted to approve the superintendent’s nomination of Jamey Martin as assistant principal at the Guy E. Rowe Elementary School. Martin, who holds a master’s degree in teaching and learning from the University of Southern Maine and has worked as a grade 5 teacher, gifted and talented and preschool teacher, also serves a Lisbon’s assistant recreation director.
  • accepted a bid of $97,000 to install heating, ventilation and air conditioning system at the Oxford Annex, which is being renovated.
  • assigned lead teachers Jennifer Steven at Waterford Memorial School, Robert Ripley at Harrison Elementary School and Cathy Scribner at Otisfield Community School.
  • appointed Martha Thompson for a one-year position as an interventionist at Agnes Gray Elementary School.
  • appointed 33 other employees including classroom teachers, educational technicians and custodial and food service staff.

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net