BATH, Maine — A new cost-sharing formula that would assess the five member communities of Regional School Unit 1 on a per-pupil basis will go to a districtwide referendum vote Tuesday, March 19.
The RSU 1 board of directors unanimously adopted the new plan last December for implementation in the 2014 fiscal year budget cycle. A public meeting on the formula was held at Bath Middle School on Tuesday, with another to occur at West Bath School at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 12.
Local contributions from RSU 1 communities – Bath, Arrowsic, Phippsburg, West Bath and Woolwich – are raised through taxes. Before the current fiscal year, the contributions had been split into two portions: a minimum amount the state requires, and an additional portion. State subsidy to the district had been based on the “essential programs and services,” or EPS, model.
The other local contribution was the additional amount each community must raise, beyond the EPS model. That contribution stipulated a cost-sharing formula based on equal thirds: student population, state valuation of a community and the community’s population in the most recent census.
The board opted last year to apply the thirds formula to its entire local tax calculation. While some members of the public had supported the change, the decision drew criticism from some municipal officials, prompting a committee to seek a cost-sharing plan that would be equitable to RSU 1 communities.
The committee recommended a per-pupil formula, the details of which RSU 1 staff described at Tuesday’s meeting.
While subsidies and special education reimbursements the district receives are currently spread among all five communities, the new formula would direct those funds to the communities generating the revenues.
“When we began to talk about looking at a cost-per-student basis, we thought the way to take into consideration the ability to pay, is [that] those communities that receive subsidy should be credited the full amount for that subsidy,” school board Chairman Tim Harkins said.
“In the past, we had credited the whole region for the subsidy, so that towns that didn’t necessarily receive subsidy got the benefit of the subsidy, which in turn watered down those towns that were receiving subsidy and impacted them in a negative fashion.”
The state Department of Education determines a community’s ability to fund education for its students, based on the state’s valuation of that community and a state-set mill rate for education. Should a community, such as Bath, have more students than the state has determined it can pay, the state will fund the difference through a subsidy.
Bath and Woolwich receive subsidies, while Arrowsic and Phippsburg receive a special education reimbursement. West Bath receives neither.
The subsidies for fiscal 2013 totalled $6.1 million, reducing the $23.4 million budget to $17.3 million. When that amount is divided by the number of students in each community, the costs per pupil are calculated as: $7,060 for Bath, $10,704 for Arrowsic, $10,704 for Phippsburg, $11,189 for West Bath and $8,573 for Woolwich.
Meanwhile, West Bath is suing RSU 1 to recover $1.9 million the town believes it overpaid in the first four years of the school district’s existence. The town’s lawsuit, filed last October, claims it should have been assessed a total of $8.2 million in fiscal years 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012, but instead paid $10.1 million.
The suit claims RSU 1 owes West Bath $1.9 million, plus interest. Both RSU 1 and Bath have filed motions to dismiss the case.
Bath was allowed by a judge to join RSU 1 in its defense of the lawsuit. West Bath also recently included Arrowsic and Woolwich as defendants in the case. West Bath claims that Bath, Arrowsic and Woolwich underpaid in the first few years of the RSU’s existence.