Education official says casino money going to schools, next year

AUGUSTA – Defending what some call a "raid on profits" from the Oxford Casino, Deputy Commissioner Jim Rier said Tuesday that money from the casino which was supposed to go to public schools will go to schools next year – but not this year.

Taking $14 million of casino money now for the state's General Fund helped avoid larger curtailments to schools between now and the end of June, Rier said.

“Had we not used that, it's likely there would have been further cuts to General Purpose Aid," he said. "That $14 million prevented us from making further reductions.”

In the upcoming biennial budget that starts July 1, casino proceeds of $13.1 million in 2013-14, and $13.7 million in 2014-15, is expected to go to GPA to boost state money for public K-12 schools, Rier said. Those figures “are both based on estimates of what will be collected” in casino proceeds.

On Monday night, Lewiston Superintendent Bill Webster told the school committee Gov. Paul LePage's budget is taking casino money that was to go to public schools and giving it to private schools. That information, Webster said, came from Maine School Management Association. “There are more loose ends on the budget front than I ever recall,” Webster said.

The change Webster was talking about is the “Choice and Opportunity Fund,” not casino profits, Rier said Tuesday. “It's a renaming of something already in the law. The Choice and Opportunity Fund is the old “Center for Excellence for At-Risk Students,” which allowed $530,000 per year for students to attend the residential Good Will-Hinckley school.

The renamed account still contains $530,000, but it will allow Commissioner Stephen Bowen to give money to needy families in order to send students to other public school districts or to private or charter schools. “It has nothing to do with casino funds,” Rier said.

There is, he added, much confusion about LePage's budget proposals.

The state needs “to clarify a lot of issues. We're trying to do that.” Rier said he hopes to give schools estimates on what they can expect in state funding in mid-February, when many superintendents release their proposed budgets. The February estimates “won't be full-blown subsidy printouts,” but may provide some clarity on what's in the budget at that moment, Rier said.

Another misunderstood proposal is teacher retirement, Rier said Tuesday.

Currently, the state pays for all teacher retirement, approximately $201 million per year. In LePage's proposed two-year budget, school districts would pay $28.9 million per year of what's called “normal costs,” or money the state pays for working teachers' future retirements.

As proposed, school districts would pay $28.9 million, and the state would add $14.5 million in the GPA fund “to support that increase,” Rier said. That means schools would have to allocate $28.9 million yearly to the Maine State Retirement System, and the state would pay for half of that through the education funding formula, Rier said. School districts that are high receivers, like Lewiston, would get more, while low receivers would get less, Rier said.

In proposing the retirement change, Webster said the state is “opening the barn door. Where is it going to stop?”

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Raymond Robichaud's picture

Casino Money

Casino money (for education) is simply a fund controlled by the Legislature who can always find a "good" reason to raid it - such as balancing the General Fund without raising taxes. Raising Taxes requires political risk. This casino Fund was created with promises of funding education. If they get away with raiding it the first time, they will do it again and again.

Catherine Pressey's picture

Robing Peter to pay Paul:

Yep! that is what we are seeing from the great LePage, robing Peter and leaving him broke and without a home. While Paul is sitting in a better position of power in his pea, brain. Then you get all these stories in the paper, leading all of us to wonder what the heck is going on. If you listen to this mumbo jumbo, it is no wonder that we can not pay our bills in Augusta, the red tape and the hand outs or hands in the till keep right on rolling on. And in the story opening the barn door, and forgetting to shut it. Is just one more way to not give the voters, that, that they voted for the casino in the first place. A kick in the butt, and let the horse out of the barn. and if we are not careful he may get killed. Just stealing from the public schools. Period.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

He has an answer for everything.....

If Paul LePage was half as skilled at being a Governor, as he is at screwing the people of Maine, imagine what the state of the economy would be in Maine.
I get a kick out of these people who claim that LePage is doing his job, or actually doing something to fix the problem. He not only is doing nothing to fix the problem, he's putting a lot of people at a disadvantage by his actions. The state has a huge cash flow problem right now. LePage's solution to this problem, as I see it, is to shuffle the money we do have around. Take some from here, and put it there, pay a few things. The bottom line is, He is shifting the dirty work to the individual cities and towns, and making sure he has enough cash at his disposal. I guess if he plays his cards right, he'll be in line for the Grover Norguist, "Special Achievement Award", That would seem to be his goal as far as I can see.......

Carl Kimball's picture


I maybe wrong, but i remember some where in the agreement, to have the casino, that the money would go to public schools. So changing it in any form is a break of that agreement. But gee why stop now since the government, federal or state, can be counted on to twist it in any way they please. Remember this one, President Johnson taking money out of social sercuity to back an unpopular war, (Vietnam), and promising to replace the money, but never did. Since then others have pulled money out and not replaced it. They say that the money from the casino will go next year to public schools, but if they can't follow on their agreement now. What makes us think they will follow thru next year or any time after. Parents want their child in private schools is okay with me, but don't take it from the kids that CAN'T afford a private school and are lucky to be getting an education. (just my opinion and not that of the Sun Journal)

AL PELLETIER's picture

What's the point

of making a comment. Every time the wind shifts, so does where the money goes.


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