February 19, 2020
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Brewer losing $94,000 in school subsidy

BREWER, Maine — Flat funding is what school leaders hoped for. Superintendent Daniel Lee informed the Brewer School Committee on Monday that its wish did not come true.

“Our state subsidy is $93,885 less than last year’s,” he said. “That’s on top of our tuition revenue” decrease. “We thought we would have flat funding. We anticipated the same amount we got last year.”

After Lee got the state’s subsidy figures, which were released on March 26, he called Augusta because he thought it made a mistake in the calculation, but was informed that the figure was correct.

Increased property values and a decrease in enrollment led to the decrease in funding, Lee explained.

“This is strictly due to an increase in valuation,” he said.

The state is using property value figures from two years ago to calculate the subsidy. That was when home prices locally were soaring, and they do no reflect the recent downturn in the economy, Lee said.

“These data are old,” he said. “The economy tanked. So now we’re losing almost $94,000.”

Brewer will get $7.14 million for fiscal year 2009-10, a decrease over the 2008-09 figure of $7.23 million, according to the state Department of Education Web site.

“If you think this is hard, Dedham has lost nearly half a million dollars because of their [increased] valuation,” said Lee, who also is superintendent for the neighboring school department.

In Dedham, the state subsidy dropped 62 percent, from $842,637 for fiscal year 2008-09 to $317,475 for 2009-10.

“That’s their entire teacher salaries,” Lee said.

The state subsidy decrease is the second budget blow Brewer has received recently. School officials learned in February that the state-set nonresident tuition rate would drop by $247.54 per student, and would result in an approximate $300,000 shortfall in anticipated revenues this year, Lee has said.

Around half of students at Brewer High School come from outlying communities, and the tuition rate affects the budget’s bottom line, he said.

Brewer and eight other school systems saw tuition decreases, while all other school systems in the state saw increases, according to figures on the state’s Web site.

When Lee presented the budget figures to the school board on Monday, he cautioned that the decrease could grow, and asked that a budget workshop set for next week be rescheduled to later in the month.

“We just want to kind of update you,” he said, adding later, “Right now we’re working really out of a dark box.”

During the meeting, the board also tabled a decision about the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, which would provide laptops to all students in grades seven through 12, to give Lee time to research any hidden costs associated with the program.

“The cost of increasing the Wi-Fi in this building would scare you,” school board member Jeff Taylor said of the high school.

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