Whitefield-area school district may change what towns pay

Posted Jan. 12, 2012, at 7:24 p.m.

WHITEFIELD, Maine — In response to a taxpayer petition from the town of Alna, changes are in the works to the RSU 12 funding formula that would alter the amounts each town pays to the total district budget.

According to Jerry Nault, chairman of the finance committee and representative for Windsor on the RSU 12 board, the issue of changing the funding formula was raised more than a year ago with a petition from taxpayers in Alna, which sought to better reflect costs per student.

“They came to the board and said they weren’t happy with the cost distribution formula,” said Nault. “That’s what we’re proposing to change.”

Voters in the eight towns served by Regional School Unit 12 will hit the polls in March to decide on the new formula, which determines which town pays what for public schools.

But before the ballot box, officials will seek the public’s opinion this month on the RSU 12 Finance Committee’s recommendation, which came after months of studying numerous scenarios. RSU 12 includes Alna, Chelsea, Palermo, Somerville, Westport Island, Whitefield, Windsor and Wiscasset.

Towns now are paying at the rate they paid in fiscal year 2009. The majority of that is based on state requirements that each town pay a certain minimum amount of the district budget. Costs above the minimum are paid on a town-by-town percentage basis.

In the proposed formula, that additional cost — which Nault said now amounts to between $2 million and $3 million — would be allocated using a formula that includes the number of students from each town and the town’s population.

Under the proposal, three towns — Palermo, Somerville and Windsor — would pay more. The breakdown is as follows, according to data provided by Nault:

Alna’s share of the district budget would go from 6.24 percent to 5.76 percent; Chelsea’s share would go from 13.36 percent to 12.37 percent; Palermo’s share would go from 9.69 percent to 12.27 percent; Somerville’s share would go from 2.74 percent to 3.71 percent; Westport Island’s share would go from 8.48 percent to 6.93 percent; Whitefield’s share would go from 13.9 percent to 13.76 percent; Windsor’s share would go from 10.51 percent to 13.58 percent; and Wiscasset’s share would go from 35.08 percent to 31.7 percent.

Nault said another proposal is floating around but surfaced after the finance committee made its recommendation. That formula, which takes into account the state-required minimum contribution and each town’s student count, changes the impact on two towns. Both Windsor and Wiscasset would pay the same amount they do now instead of having their percentages raised and lowered, respectively.

Also proposed is a change in a “safety net” provision that is designed to protect towns in the event of major changes to the budget. As written, the district’s policy limits changes in any given town’s share to 3 percent up or down. Under the proposed change that amount would be raised to 5 percent.

The public hearings on the proposal are scheduled for Jan. 18 at the Wiscasset High School Library and Jan. 25 at the Windsor School. Both meetings begin at 7 p.m. Nault said the RSU 12 board will consider its final recommendation at its February meeting, which could include either of the two plans or making no changes. Voters will likely go to the polls in March so that any changes approved can take effect in fiscal year 2013.

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