OWLS HEAD, Maine — School officials from Regional School Unit 13 pleaded with their legislators Thursday night to come up with changes to the state education funding formula to help the district.
“While we may have waterfront properties here, the people are not sitting on decks, sipping cocktails and waiting for the waiters to bring more caviar,” said Superintendent Lew Collins.
State Sen. Edward Mazurek, D-Rockland; and Democratic Reps. Elizabeth Dickerson of Rockland and Chuck Kruger of Thomaston were in attendance to hear the board’s concerns.
The state formula needs to place some weight on the income of the population rather than just the property valuations, Collins said.
RSU 13 receives 16 percent of its revenues from state aid, he pointed out, well below the state average. He said this is because the district has high property valuations due to the amount of waterfront properties in the communities that make up the district.
The reality, however, he said is that there are many people in the communities who are struggling financially. He said overall slightly more than half the students in the district receive free or reduced-price lunches because of their families’ low incomes. At the South School in Rockland, 70 percent of students receive free or reduced lunches, Collins said.
The concern about state aid has more urgency following the announcement by Gov. Paul LePage that he is curtailing state expenditure because of a projected reduction in state revenues. RSU 13 now expects to receive $151,000 less in state aid that it had when it approved its budget back in June.
“The loss of this money in midstream is difficult,” the superintendent said.
He pointed out the district has seen its aid cut during the middle of the year in each of the past five years and in each year, staff cuts have resulted.
The district cannot continue to ask property owners to pay more taxes simply to keep RSU 13 afloat, he said.
“This is unsustainable for our district and our communities,” Collins said.
The local legislators said there were no quick solutions to the dilemma faced by RSU 13 and other districts in Maine.
“School funding is such a mess. I’m not sure how we can fix it,” Kruger said.
Sen. Mazurek agreed. He vowed, however, to do what he could to help the district, citing his lifetime of teaching and coaching.