Bath dissents in panel's decision on school cost sharing

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BATH — In its final meeting Tuesday night, a committee recommended that a per-pupil cost-sharing formula be implemented in Regional School Unit 1 starting with the 2014-2015 school year.

Initially, the RSU committee voted 3-2 to begin the per-pupil formula next year. Bath, Arrowsic and Phippsburg representatives were in favor of that, and West Bath and Woolwich were opposed.

But in a subsequent vote, taken in an attempt to send a more solid recommendation to the RSU 1 Board of Directors, the Arrowsic and Phippsburg representatives reversed their votes, joining West Bath and Woolwich. The result was a 4-1 decision in support of starting the per-pupil formula in 2014.

City Council Chairman David Sinclair, who voted on behalf of Bath, preferred making the change next school year. “We feel the system that the RSU had adopted in this current year was very unfair to Bath in how it treated the subsidies,” Sinclair said.

The School Board is expected to vote on the per-pupil assessment, which would be the same for each community, at its Monday, Dec. 17, meeting. If the board supports changing the formula, the decision would go to a district-wide referendum.

The committee’s review was triggered by concerns over the RSU 1 board’s unanimous vote April 23 to change the cost-sharing formula for the current fiscal 2013 budget, so that a law that created the school district would apply to its entire local tax calculation.

The board had heard arguments from the public in support of the change, but its decision drew criticism from some municipal officials.

The Bath City Council in May asked RSU 1 Chairman Timothy Harkins to request that the School Board “immediately begin the process of adopting a new cost-sharing method that is fair and equitable to the taxpayers of all member communities.”

The local contribution from the RSU 1 communities – the funds raised through taxes – had been split into two elements: a minimum amount that the state requires, and a portion over and above that amount. State subsidy to the district had been presented on a form based on the essential programs and services model.

Harkins said in April that the form stated that for the district to receive subsidy from the state, “we need to raise a certain dollar amount at the local level. And they break that down by community. They say each community should raise X amount of dollars.”

The other local contribution piece was the additional amount each community must raise, beyond the EPS model. That contribution stipulated a cost-sharing formula based on equal thirds: student population, state valuation of a community and the community’s population in the most recent census.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.