EASTON, Maine — Easton has the unique and unwanted distinction of being the only community in the state to lose additional school funding even after the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee restored nearly $30 million for education to the state budget.
“Back in May the governor put out a budget proposal which included taking money not only out of revenue sharing but out of the General Purpose Aid which goes out to the schools, as well,” said Easton Town Manager Jim Gardner. “What the legislators did was get together and make changes to the governor’s proposal and they actually put $30 million back into school funding.
“However, out of every school and community in the state of Maine, only one town was negatively impacted and that’s Easton,” he said. “Easton is the only community to lose money — $36,300 — out of all the schools in the state. Every other school stayed status quo or above. Everybody I talk to says they can’t believe it. ‘How could that have happened? It doesn’t even make sense.’”
Under the governor’s original budget proposal, Easton schools would have received $162,669. With the enacted budget that was adopted by the Legislature in June, Easton will now receive $126,369.
Gardner, who received the troubling news at the Aug. 5 school board meeting, said, “it’s not about the money, it’s about the principle.”
The town manager said he would have been OK if the subsidy for Easton had stayed the same, but he questioned why the state had to reduce the amount by $36,300 and make the town the “only negatively impacted community in the state of Maine.”
Recognizing that Easton is a “self-sustainable community,” Gardner said it seems as though “you get penalized if you grow economically each year.”
“We’ve got the big guys … we’ve got McCain and Huber, as well as an agricultural base,” he said, “but we’ve also got the lowest receiving school in the state of Maine. We’re lower than Cape Elizabeth, we’re lower than Bar Harbor … we’re the lowest. A lot of that is because of valuation, which is part of the formula, and the amount of students.
“We are a low populated school. We graduated 16 kids last year, but I’m the proud person that gives out the Hayden Scholarship each year which is given to every student residing in Easton that is going on to college. I gave out 16 scholarships this year,” said Gardner. “The Department of Education came up here and ranked our elementary school an ‘A,’ and our junior-senior high school a ‘B.’ What Easton is saying is, ‘Time out. What did we do wrong? Why were we negatively impacted?’ To make matters worse, nobody can explain it to us. We’ve been told by the Department of Education that the money was put back in by the Appropriations Committee without any DOE advice. Legislators didn’t even ask them for any printouts. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Easton has since worked with the Maine Municipal Association to draft a bill, An Act to Amend the Distribution of FY 2014 General Purpose Aid for Local Schools to Correct an Inequitable Result.
The emergency bill would appropriate $36,300.66 in state aid for K-12 education for the purpose of holding harmless the town of Easton.
“We are going to petition the legislative bodies with the amendment to reverse their initial action and make Easton a positive community,” said Gardner. “We want to get this reversed in the next legislative session which starts in September, so we’ve got to get moving on this.”