SAD 51 could face nearly $900K loss of state revenue

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CUMBERLAND — Faced with a potential state subsidy reduction of $896,000 in next year’s budget, School Administrative District 51 is exploring ways to mitigate the impact to taxpayers.

The Cumberland-North Yarmouth district received $11.87 million from the state for fiscal year 2017, but could get only $10.97 million for FY 2017-18, a loss of 7.5 percent, Superintendent Jeff Porter said in an interview March 8. That figure is subject to change, as the Legislature reviews the governor’s proposed biennial budget in the coming weeks.

Porter said he has heard that 60 percent of Maine school districts have also experienced cuts, due to several factors. For one, the state will likely no longer fund system administration, which is the cost to run the district at the Essential Programs and Services level.

The state once funded that completely, then cut back to 50 percent, Porter explained, noting that “now they’re cutting the other 50 percent, so it’s zeroed out.”

The impact could result in a roughly $300,000 loss to SAD 51, Porter said.

A proposed change in state funding relating to class size ratios also plays a major impact on the potential subsidy reduction.

“EPS is saying you can now have fewer teachers per number of students,” Porter said, noting that while that amounts to one additional student, it adds up when the entire pupil population is considered.

“They run it through the formula, and tell you that this is how many teachers you should have for the number of kids you have, based on these ratios,” the superintendent explained. SAD 51 has always exceeded that ratio and spent more money locally in order to keep class sizes down, “but now we’re getting less subsidy for that.”

State funding also hinges on student enrollment over a two-year period – districts receive $7,500 per pupil – and SAD 51 has lost about 13 in the past two years, Porter said.

If the district changed nothing in its budget going into next year, it still must add about 2.5 percent to compensate for cost-of-living wage increases. That, plus the projected revenue loss, would amount to a budget increase of more than 10 percent, Porter said.

“That’s not realistic … we can’t pass on a 10 percent increase” to taxpayers, he noted.

With more than 70 people voicing opposition to the proposed budget in front of the state Education Committee on March 3, Porter said, “we’re getting some little signals … that the Legislature is going to put more (General Purpose Aid funds) back into the education budget.

“I’m hoping that our revenue does not look as bad as it does, but we just don’t know,” he added.

In light of the possibility of compensating for some manner of revenue loss, SAD 51 has come up with three tiers of potential budget costs – the first would have the least impact on classrooms, the third would have a disruptive effect.

The district’s Finance Committee has so far wanted to stick with the first tier, which would create $670,000 in reductions. That includes deferring most financing for a climate control system project at the Mabel I. Wilson elementary school to fiscal year 2018, as well as opting out of some technology purchases next year, freezing the budget for the rest of this fiscal year, and not filling a custodial supervisor position.

SAD 51 is also looking to reduce funding for a school resource officer by 30 percent, with the hopes that the town of Cumberland – for whom the person would also work as a police officer – will pay the difference, Porter said.

No actual staff eliminations are proposed in Tier 1.

The $670,000 cut would result in a budget increase of less than 5 percent, so long as the state subsidy reduction came in at half what is currently proposed, Porter said.

“Once we have more information about the state subsidy, it will make us decide whether we’re cutting into Tier 2,” he added. “… Our goal is to keep our budget increase below 5 percent.”

Porter plans to present SAD 51’s budget on April 3.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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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.