ELLSWORTH, Maine — It was a good news-bad news situation at the City Council budget workshop Monday.
The good news from RSU 24 Superintendent Bill Webster was that the tentative school budget for the coming year is about $2.1 million less than the current school budget.
The bad news for the city is that the amount it has to pay will be almost $1 million more than it paid this year.
The proposed school budget, as it stands now, totals $30,179,865 excluding the state debt. That is $2,187,179 less than the current budget of $32,367,044. The debt, which reflects the payments on the new school in Ellsworth, is $1,827,000, a new cost to the RSU, which is covered by an equal payment from the state.
The city’s share of the budget, if approved as presented, will be $8,184,512, an increase of $986,463. With the assessment for adult education added, the total assessment to the city will be $8,263,788, up $968,483 or 13.3 percent.
Under the RSU system, the City Council no longer has the authority to approve the school budget, but has to include the city’s share of the school budget as part of the municipal budget.
Ellsworth is not alone. According to the information Webster provided to councilors Monday, all but one of the towns in the 12-town school district will see an increase in their total assessment for the coming year.
Those total assessments reflect a number of factors, including an overall increase in the state’s Essential Programs and Services assessment for the RSU and the loss of $1,275,655 in state subsidy. The budget cuts the school board has made during the budget process offset those factors, resulting in the initial total local appropriation being 5 percent lower than last year.
Webster said that’s not the whole story, however.
“We have no balance forward,” he told the councilors. “Any school district that’s been in operation for more than a year would have a balance forward.”
A provision in the state’s school consolidation law required that when an RSU was formed, any surplus remaining in the member school departments is returned to the respective communities. That was done last year when RSU 24 was formed, so none of the member towns has any surplus to apply to next year’s budget.
Last year, Ellsworth had a $1.3 million surplus to apply to the current school budget. Webster said he had recommended that the towns set aside some funds in anticipation of this and, in fact, Ellsworth has $500,000 that has been allocated to ease the impact of anticipated school budget increases this year, according to City Manager Michelle Beal.
Webster noted that the school board does not have jurisdiction over those funds. The decision on how to use those funds rests with the councilors.
After his presentation, Webster noted that of the $2.1 million in budget reductions, about $800,000 was the direct result of consolidation, either through reduction in positions at the central office or through the benefits of combining purchasing for the schools in the district.
The budget reductions, he said, also reflect the loss of some positions in the district. There have been some layoffs in nonteaching positions, along with 12 teacher retirements throughout the district.
“We’ve used them in lieu of layoffs,” he said.
The budget, however, anticipates about $200,000 in pay reductions through two furlough days for staff including teachers. The furlough days have not yet been approved by the school board or by the teachers, he said. If that provision is rejected, Webster said, there likely would be additional layoffs.
The school board is scheduled to meet on Tuesday, May 4, to review the budget and will adopt a final budget on May 18.
The RSU budget meeting is scheduled for May 26, at which registered voters from all 12 towns will be eligible to vote on the budget. A validation vote will be held on June 8 during the state primary elections.
Meanwhile, the City Council is scheduled to hold one more budget workshop for the municipal budget on Monday with the final budget review set for May 24.
The council is expected to adopt a final budget at its regular meeting in June.