SAD 75, Brunswick schools hit hard by state; RSU 1 fares better

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TOPSHAM — The School Administrative District 75 superintendent said last week that every category of spending will be scrutinized to make up for a $1.75 million loss in state aid for next year’s budget.

Preliminary General Purpose Aid numbers released by the Maine Department of Education Feb. 1 showed SAD 75 could lose $500,000 more in state aid than projected for fiscal 2011. SAD 75 had anticipated a $1.2 million loss.

The situation has become increasingly worse in Brunswick, too. Last week, the district learned it was losing $2.8 million in state aid – about $750,000 more than previously projected and the second largest cut in the state.

This week, Brunswick learned the cut would be $130,000 deeper, prompting Superintendent Paul Perzanoski to send a letter to DOE Commissioner Susan Gendron requesting that the state review its aid distribution formula and consider “what is fair and reasonable.”

Regional School Unit 1, on the other hand, may receive more than $600,000 more than expected.

General Purpose Aid is dictated by student enrollment and local property values. SAD 75’s Web site noted as of Monday that its student population continues to drop, while its 2-year-old valuations for three of its four towns increased. Meanwhile, the state aid formula benefits districts with rising enrollments and decreasing valuations.

“We have a whole budget process that we’re just starting tonight,” SAD 75 Superintendent Mike Wilhelm said Feb. 2, adding that “we’ll work through what the options could be to find the cost savings to bring in a budget that addresses the … cut in subsidy. … We’re going to be looking at virtually every area in the school district; all departments, all categories of spending will be scrutinized.”

With the revised cut, state aid to SAD 75 would decline to $14.4 million in fiscal 2011 from $16.2 million in fiscal 2010.

RSU 1 had expected about $1.2 million in cuts as well, Superintendent William Shuttleworth said last week. Instead, the Bath-based district could be due for a cut of nearly $637,000, according to the preliminary numbers.

“Isn’t it amazing that I’m somehow gratified in receiving only $636,000 in cuts,” Shuttleworth said.

He said he could not explain why his district saw a relatively lighter impact when other units with similar configurations endured harder hits.

“I’m going to make sure before I go too far with it that (DOE Director of Finance and Operations) Jim Rier tells me these numbers are totally correct,” Shuttleworth said.

RSU 1 received $7.7 million in state aid for fiscal 2010 and would see a drop to $7.1 million if the state’s preliminary numbers hold up.

Still, RSU 1 and other school units may take financial hits in areas besides General Purpose Aid, Shuttleworth noted. He said it appears that the federal government will cut all Medicaid money to the states for schools.

“That’s $135,000 for us, so we’re not counting on any of that as revenue next year,” he said.

Brunswick, meanwhile, continued its push for DOE review of its subsidy loss, a cut that Perzanoski last week described as disproportionate. 

Brunswick’s $2.9 million reduction is second only to Portland’s, which will lose $3.3 million in state aid. Brunswick is also facing a $670,00 curtailment from its current budget, a reduction that will require taking money from the district’s fund balance.

The district could have to tap the fund balance again to close the gap in the 2010-2011 budget.

Perzanoski said Brunswick’s reduction is disproportionate considering the town has a population of about 21,000 – and dropping because of the Brunswick Naval Air Station closure – while Portland has 65,000 residents.

Perzanoski said DOE officials calculated the reduction based on declining school enrollment and 4 percent growth in property values.

Making matters worse, he said, was a 34 percent decrease in federal Impact Aid for students in military families, and a $189,000 decrease in tuition for students from Durham – a byproduct of the school consolidation law.

The result, Perzanoski wrote to Gendron, means starting the 2010-2011 budget in a $2 million hole before addressing teacher contracts, health insurance and the cost of conducting business.

“This appeal to you is not made in isolation as we understand full well that many, many districts are having to make difficult decisions,” Perzanoski wrote. “We are a community, however, that due to unique circumstances is facing economic deficits almost equal to Maine’s largest city, which is three times the size of Brunswick.”

“I fear that the consequences of this action will dramatically upset our ability to make improvement in the areas of student achievement and professional growth,” Perzanoski added. “It saddens me that public education many times makes its decisions in a reactive mode based on which master yells the loudest.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or [email protected]. Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or [email protected]