RSU 9 faces budget dilemmas

FARMINGTON — State funding for education, state retirement contribution and unknown health insurance costs are among the factors Mt. Blue Regional School District must consider in its budget for 2013-14.

Donna M. Perry/Sun Journal

Town officials and RSU 9 staff and school board listen to Superintendent Mike Cormier on Feb. 12 explain budget issues for 2013-14. The meeting was held at the new Forum at Mt. Blue High School in Farmington.

The state is funding 45 percent of education costs, not the 55 percent it should be, RSU 9 Superintendent Mike Cormier told school board members, town officials and school staff at a board meeting Feb. 12. The district serves 10 towns.

Gov. John Baldacci signed LD 1 in 2005 for the state to pay 55 percent of education, reduce property taxes and reduce government spending at all levels.

“Maine schools, like Maine hospitals, are owed a huge amount of money,” Cormier said, adding that was his opinion.

If the state was funding its essential programs and services model 100 percent, that would have meant $2.1 billion for schools this year. It is currently funded at 97 percent, or $1.9 billion, he said, which continues to put more burden on the local property tax payers.

The local tax rate statewide for education is $7.90 per $1,000 of property valuation and Cormier believes that amount will increase in the coming year. The tax rate was $7.44 per $1,000 of valuation in 2008, dipped to $6.69 in 2010 and has steadily increased.

Gov. Paul LePage is proposing to fund education at the current year’s amount for the next two years and wants to push the district’s June payment of nearly $1 million into the next budget year, which begins July 1.

Districts around the state are facing the same issues.

The governor also wants school districts to pick up a percentage of the Maine State Retirement System in the budget for the new school year, Cormier said.

On top of that, the district’s carryover amounts are dwindling and the cost of education is rising. The district is also working around the governor’s curtailment order, which for RSU 9 is $135,000 for this year. Administrators and business staff have cut dollars where possible to meet it.

There are three important factors in the state’s essential programs and service funding model, Cormier said. They are town valuation established by the state, pupil enrollment and accuracy of Maine Education Data Management System.

Each September they spend hours reviewing every employee and making sure they are in the classification they are supposed to be, Cormier said. If one check in the data management system program is missed it could mean a loss of money to the district, he said.

Cormier said the district’s current essential programs and services budget is $27 million with debt service, while the total budget passed in May 2012 was $28.9 million.

Sen. Thomas Saviello, R-Wilton, who is also a selectman, said he doesn’t expect a final state budget to be ready until April or May. The state Legislature is currently grappling with a supplemental budget to fix a shortfall in revenue.

If he was to predict, Saviello said, the district will see some cuts but not as much as the governor proposes.

dperry@sunjournal.com

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Ann Power's picture

?

I assume that the $64 million renovation and addition to Mt. Blue High School and Foster Career and Technology Education Center we just had to have, contributes to increased monthly expenses?

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