Maine releases estimates of how much money each school district will receive

Posted Feb. 02, 2012, at 7:43 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 02, 2012, at 9:58 p.m.

BRUNSWICK, Maine — School districts across Maine learned Thursday the latest estimates from the Department of Education of how much state money might come their way for the next school year.

The new figures meet a statutory requirement that the department provide estimates about its next-year funding for schools in early February. But the numbers are subject to change by whatever actions are taken by the 125th Legislature between now and the end of the session. That means the figures released Thursday are preliminary.

According to data from the department, some districts will see major increases, such as more than $2.9 million for the Farmington-area RSU 9, which will receive the largest dollar increase in the state. For others, such as the Brunswick School Department, which is projected to get about $1.2 million less than this year, the biggest reduction statewide, the news was not good.

“I was shocked,” said Brunswick Superintendent Paul Perzanoski on Thursday. “This is really catastrophic.”

Among the losers, according to Thursday’s data, are Bangor, Brewer, Eastport, Madawaska and Rockland. Those that will receive increased funding include Auburn, East Millinocket, Hermon, Machias, Portland and Dexter.

Perzanoski said his district was told by the department last fall that it could expect a $243,000 increase in funding for the next school year, which makes the net decrease he learned about on Thursday more in the range of $1.5 million out of a budget of about $33 million. The cut expected next year comes on the heels of $4.2 million in cuts to state aid for Brunswick schools in the past two years, which translated to the loss of about 90 staff positions districtwide and the closure of two elementary schools.

Despite the opening of a new elementary school last year, Perzanoski said most of the district’s buildings are at or past capacity.

“We’re bursting at the seams,” he said.

Perzanoski and Deputy Education Commissioner Jim Rier agreed that the major factor in Brunswick is the closure of Brunswick Naval Air Station, which has contributed to a loss of about 800 students since 2008 for a total of about 2,500. Still, Perzanoski said the cut predicted Thursday will result in reduced programming and likely increased class sizes.

“There doesn’t seem to be any reason for cuts like this to a district of this size,” said Perzanoski. “Based on what’s happened to the community, I would think there would have to be some sort of stopgaps available.”

In the Lewiston School Department, which is projected to see about $1.2 million more state aid next year for a budget of around $52 million, the population situation is opposite of Brunswick’s. Superintendent Bill Webster said that as more people have moved to Lewiston, the School Department’s enrollment has been increasing by about 100 students a year and is projected to keep doing so for the next decade. That, combined with a citywide reduction in the tax base, were what led to the increase in state dollars.

However, Lewiston and most other districts in Maine also are losing money in Medicaid reimbursements and federal funding from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 is running out. In Lewiston those two factors translate to a loss of about $1 million — and the district still has to pay for more teachers and classroom space to accommodate the rising enrollment.

“We need every bit of these dollars,” said Webster.

Rier said a variety of factors caused swings in the amount of money that will go to each town, including changes in student enrollment and special education costs. In the case of Farmington’s big increase, Rier said much of that is because of construction of a new high school, part of which will be paid for by the state in the next school year.

Overall, the total amount of state money for schools in 2012-13 will be about $915 million, which is an increase of around $19 million over this year.

But that is subject to major changes under consideration by the Legislature, including budget discussions about how to plug a $220 million shortfall in the Department of Health and Human Services. Rier said exact figures for state subsidies won’t be known until the Legislature adjourns.

Rier said he heard from a handful of school districts Thursday, most of them wondering why their amounts changed from projections released late last year.

“Last fall, we didn’t have any way of calculating the [student population] numbers,” said Rier. “Today’s numbers reflect all of the conditions for each district.”

Other major funding decreases predicted by the department Thursday include Bangor, $205,000; Brewer, $351,000; Easton, $550,000; Eastport, $310,000; Madawaska, $137,000; RSU 79 (Presque Isle), $640,000; RSU 3 (Unity area), $458,000; MSAD 27 (Fort Kent), $315,000; RSU 49 (Fairfield area), $442,000; RSU 75 (Topsham area), $317,000; Indian Township, $223,000; and RSU 13 (Rockland), $344,000.

Districts that can expect major increases in funding include Auburn, $935,000; Biddeford, $1 million; East Millinocket, $742,000; Falmouth, $1.9 million; Hermon, $628,000; Machias, $293,000; Millinocket, $817,000; Portland, $924,000; South Portland, $981,000; RSU 1 (Bath area), $1.4 million; RSU 80 (Guilford area), $293,000; RSU 22 (Hampden area), $1.9 million; RSU 41 (LaGrange area), $584,000; MSAD 46 (Dexter), $504,000; and RSU 54 (Skowhegan), $766,000.

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