Stimulus to allow school aid increase

By Rich Hewitt, BDN Staff
Posted March 27, 2009, at 8:49 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Department of Education has released a preliminary $1 billion general purpose aid to education package that relies on federal stabilization funds as well as state budget funds.

The preliminary calculations for aid to schools for the budget year that begins July 1 includes $958,971,492 in state funds and $42,996,116 in stabilization funds from the federal stimulus package.

Without the stabilization funds, the department essentially would have flat-funded schools in the coming year. The state portion — $959 million — is about $2.5 million more than current state subsidy levels.

According to Jim Rier, the state Department of Education’s director of finance and operations, the state will draw on additional federal stabilization funds to restore subsidies to local schools in this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

The most recent state supplemental budget had reduced school funding by $27 million. Rier said $27 million in stabilization funds would be used to make up that loss.

“We’ll be sending out checks in May to restore it,” he said.

Rier also stressed that there are other elements to the federal stimulus package that will funnel additional funds to Maine’s schools. The state is slated to receive $37 million in Title I funds over the next two years, and $54 million over the next two years in federal IDEA or Special Education funding.

Despite the increase in total general purpose aid funding, Rier said there still will be individual school districts that will see decreases in state funding and some still will receive an increase.

“The stabilization funds do not eliminate the components that drive the changes in year-to-year calculations,” Rier said.

Some of those factors, such as changes in student population and local state valuation, are shown in the printout listing the calculated aid to individual school districts which is posted on the department’s Web site, www.maine.gov/education/data/eps/fy10.

Rier pointed to two Washington County towns to illustrate. According to the department’s chart, the town of Cutler saw a 59 percent increase in its state valuation last year. That was a key factor in the calculations that resulted in a decrease of $111,171 in state subsidy for schools.

On the other hand, the state valuation for the town of Baileyville, based on a revaluation of the mill there, decreased by 21 percent, which translated into an increase in state subsidy of $376,215.

“There are many factors driving those negative numbers,” he said.

The figures released for individual school districts also reflect the penalties assessed against districts that voted not to consolidate as required under the state’s school reorganization law. The department calculated what those districts would have received including the federal stabilization funds and then assessed the penalty based on that figure.

The aid figures are preliminary and are based on the proposed state budget, according to Rier. Changes to the budget could result in changes to the figures, he said. The aid allocations become final when the budget is adopted by the Legislature.

State lawmakers learned about the general aid spending at committee hearings Thursday evening and Friday. Members of both parties said they have lots of questions.

Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, chairman of the Education Committee, said it’s clear that economic stimulus funding is preventing major cuts in positions and programs.

“That being said, it’s not looking very promising beyond the next two years,” he said, referring to when the one-time stimulus money has been spent.

Republican Sen. Carol Weston of Montville agreed. She said that unless the economy improves in two years and produces more state tax revenue, towns will find themselves footing more of the bill for educational programs, such as equipping high school students with laptop computers.

“We are asking our schools to do more, but we actually are giving them less,” she said.

Dieter Bradbury of the Portland Press Herald contributed to this report.

rhewitt@bangordailynews.net

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http://bangordailynews.com/2009/03/27/news/stimulus-to-allow-school-aid-increase/ printed on April 16, 2014