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Scarborough school funding: 'It could have been worse'

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Scarborough school funding: 'It could have been worse'

SCARBOROUGH — Preliminary 2011 state funding for Scarborough schools of $5 million reflects a loss to the district's budget of $2 million in general aid to education.

The loss was somewhat less than the district expected, Scarborough Schools Superintendent David Doyle said Wednesday.

"Two (million) is not great, obviously, but it's not the worst case scenario that was floating out there," he said. "It could have been worse."

Of the $5 million, new information provided this week shows the state's 2011 funding calculations included the remainder of the federal stimulus money of $1.8 million, with the state's share at nearly $3.2 million.

Stimulus funds were supposed to be committed by September 2012, Doyle said. But, depleting that source now "means next year could be quite a cliff unless the economy picks up to the point that revenue projections begin to improve," he said.

In the state's funding formula, two factors – the change in Scarborough's property valuation versus the change in the state's average property valuation, and the change in Scarborough's enrollment numbers – contributed to a greater reduction in state funding, Doyle said. The town's valuation went up 1 percent as compared to the state, while its enrollment numbers barely increased.

"When your population is not increasing that rapidly and your valuation increases, that works against you," he said. "We have one of the largest valuations in the state – in the top 10, if not in the top five."

The funding amount reflects the state's decision to penalize districts that did not consolidate and did not submit an alternative plan by charging them an additional 6 cents on the local mil rate for education. That decision increased money to districts, including Scarborough, that complied with the requirement.

But the Legislature has discussed removing that penalty, which would decrease the amount of money Scarborough schools would receive – a loss of about $213,000 by Doyle's calculations. He said he has asked lawmakers who represent the town to "keep an eye on things" as the Legislature moves closer to its decision.

The School Department will likely lose more of its funding from the elimination of or changes to some federal programs, particularly changes to the Medicaid reimbursements for eligible special education funding. Though Doyle said he didn't have a dollar figure on that loss, he said they are not counting on any of that money as they prepare for next year's budget.

The 2011 reduction is the latest of several over the last couple of years.

For 2009, the initial budgeted state funding for Scarborough was about $7 million, Doyle said. A mid-year curtailment of $780,000 that left the district scrambling was replenished by that amount in federal stimulus funds by the end of fiscal year 2009.

"But because we had curtailed things already, we only used a portion of that stimulus money and rolled a good chunk of it forward to use this year," he said.

The state's 2010 funding for Scarborough of $7 million included $1.2 million of stimulus money, Doyle said. In this year, a mid-year curtailment took away about $1.1 million of that amount.

Though the School Department staff has anticipated and planned for cuts, the 2011 funding figure and the expectation of possibly a worse scenario in the next year – without stimulus funds to soften the blow – will continue to be a challenge.

A first reading of the school budget and a public hearing is tentatively scheduled for the School Board's Feb. 25 meeting, Doyle said. Though the second reading has been scheduled for the following meeting, the board may choose to delay that session to provide more time to discuss feedback it receives from the public.

By the end of March, the board will forward an approved budget to the town manager; the Town Council's Finance Committee should receive it by early April. After a public hearing the end of that month, the council will vote on the budget in the beginning of May and the referendum vote will be held May 11, Doyle said.

Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or proberts@theforecaster.net.