State budget impasse leaves SAD 51 subsidy in question

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CUMBERLAND — With no biennial state budget approved by July 1, the amount of state aid going to school districts around Maine remained in question.

Facing a potential subsidy loss in fiscal 2018 of nearly $896,000 in Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed budget, officials in the School Administrative District 51 had hoped more money would come through.

But the Cumberland-North Yarmouth district has a few options on the table to make up the difference, according to Superintendent Jeff Porter.

“They have to go back to the drawing board, obviously, in Augusta,” Porter said in an interview Saturday. “So we don’t really have any idea what that means at all for state subsidy. …  I think we just revert back to the same subsidy figures we were given back in February, with the hopes … that will never be enacted by the Legislature.”

Having heard indications from Augusta earlier this year that more money could be allocated toward education, SAD 51 in its fiscal 2018 budget planning process factored in a loss of about $464,000 – half the potential deduction.

If SAD 51 ends up receiving the original subsidy cut, it will have to “make decisions about how to manage the difference between the projected revenue amount and the actual revenue reduction,” Porter has said. “The board would be involved in approving those adjustments, if there are any, as we cannot exceed what the voters approve.”

SAD 51 has come up with three tiers of potential budget costs – the first to have the least impact on classrooms, the third to have a disruptive effect. Given the worst-case revenue scenario, the district could consider Tier 2 cuts, focusing first on non-personnel items, but potentially having to explore staff cuts.

“I’m pretty confident that we’re not going to need to go to personnel,” Porter said.

SAD 51 could also use unexpected remaining funds from fiscal 2017, which ended June 30, which would be transferred to the district’s fund balance. SAD 51 saved approximately $200,000 through a budget freeze, meant to counter the subsidy loss, which would go toward cushioning the reduction, according to Porter.

A third way of making up the loss would be a combination of both those options, the superintendent explained.

“In terms of our day-to-day, we’re fine in the district; we’re pretty solvent,” Porter said, noting that both Cumberland and North Yarmouth have strong cash flow. “I’m not concerned about our immediate financial situation at all.”

The first state subsidy check is due around July 20, he said.

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.