Why Legislature wants Auburn to pay higher taxes

On May 30th, and without fanfare, state government sent the residents of Lewiston, Auburn and several other cities a message: You should raise more money to support your schools.

Fair share? Analysis shows spending and tax burdens differ from city to city

And if you don't, the state told the cities, we will start penalizing you in 2016-2017 by withdrawing state support to your schools.

The message came in the form of LD 667, and the message wasn't open to other interpretations, according to Rep. Joyce Maker of Calais, the bill's author.

Now, telling other people to raise their taxes is pretty nervy, but Maker wasn't being hypocritical. Her own school district isn't, by her definition, doing enough to fund its schools.

Maker isn't exactly a tax-and-spend liberal from some wealthy coastal community.

She represents Baileyville, Baring, Calais, Charlotte and Pleasant Point, Passamaquoddy Indian Township, Perry, Robinson and the unorganized territory of North Washington, all in Washington County.

And she's also a Republican.

While Maker is a retired college administrator and financial aid director at Washington County Community College, she doesn't consider herself a big spender.

She told the Sun Journal she just feels very strongly about education, and that a proper education isn't possible without a proper amount of spending.

"It really bothered me that some communities were not contributing to their children's education at the required share amount," she said in her testimony before the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee of the legislature.

"I was determined to try to fix it."

First, she thought about immediately forcing cities like Lewiston, Auburn, Biddeford and Augusta to stop under-funding their schools.

But, she said she realized some communities would have a hard time raising the required share right off the bat.

So, the bill she wrote allows communities to take baby steps toward this goal, raising about a third of the total for three years beginning in 2014-2015.

"You may ask, why should the local communities pay their share when the state and the federal government do not," she said. "This is very simple. They are OUR children. . . . The students don't deserve any less."

And you know what? Our anti-tax governor, Paul LePage, agreed that some communities are not putting enough money into education. He signed Maker's bill on May 30th.

That was after it was approved overwhelmingly by both houses of the Maine Legislature, by both Democrats and Republicans.

In the House, 42 Republicans voted to force about 30 school units, out of more than 230 in the state, to raise their taxes, compared to 13 Republicans who voted against. The measure passed 110 to 29.

In the Senate, 18 Republicans joined 15 Democrats in approving Maker's bill. Conservatives like Sen. James Hamper, R-Oxford, and Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, joined liberals like Sen. Emily Cain, D-Orono, in approving the tax-hike measure.

Lewiston-Auburn legislators were like a wall of opposition to the tax increase. Sen. John Cleveland and Reps. Mike Beaulieu, Mike Carey, Mike Lajoie, Nathan Libby, Margaret Rotundo and Wayne Werts were all opposed.

Only Sen. Brian Bolduc of Auburn favored Maker's bill.

The goal, according to Maker, is to force districts to meet the Essential Program and Services standard set by the state, which is a minimum amount originally approved by the Legislature in 2004.

The purpose of EPS, according to David Silvernail at the University of Southern Maine, is to determine how much money is necessary to provide a child with a basic education and then how much of that should be raised locally and how much by the state.

Many argue that Lewiston and Auburn, because of our lower property values and tax base, cannot raise as much money as a wealthier community like Falmouth or Scarborough.

And the EPS formula acknowledges that by requiring poorer communities to raise less tax money toward EPS and wealthier communities to raise more.

Many complain that the Legislature has not fulfilled its own obligation to pay for 55 percent of the cost of local education in Maine. But they may not realize that the state already pays more than 50 percent of the cost in Lewiston, Auburn and many other poorer communities.

But the 2004 law also required local communities to do their proportionate share. Lewiston and Auburn would have been required to do this several years ago if not for a waiver passed in 2009.

Silvernail said the waiver was meant to be a temporary measure in response to the recession.

So, Maker's amendment does not create a new EPS obligation, it simply lifts the waiver that certain communities have had that allowed them to receive full state funding without raising their share.

Maker's goal was to gradually remove the waiver in three steps starting in 2014-2015.

As a result, Auburn will not be penalized even if it doesn't raise more money for schools for 2013-2014.

But in coming years, failing to do so will result in an increasing large penalty until, in 2016-2017, the state will begin taking two dollars away for every dollar the local community does not provide.

Lewiston voters took a gradual step toward meeting the EPS goal on May 14th by approving a 7.2 percent increase.

A month later, on June 14th, Auburn voters rejected a similar increase, 6.9 percent. Auburn will trim that request and try again in a few weeks.

But taxpayers should realize that unless state law changes, they are only delaying a tax increase largely imposed by legislators from the 80 percent of communities already meeting the EPS mark.

rrhoades@sunjournal.com

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

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Comments

Bob Woodbury's picture

Excuse me.

When was the last time the state paid ANY school what it was mandated to pay? It paid the hospitals - why not the schools?

FRANK EARLEY's picture

How do you calculate failure??????

I don't quite understand how these people distinguish poor education, or better yet, what is good education.
My daughter attended Lewiston and Minot, elementary schools, she attended Auburn Middle school, then Levitt, Lewiston and finally Edward Little High School. She actually took extra night courses to finish high school half a year early.
She entered the work force to make her future education easier, and lived in several area's such as New Hampshire Hawaii, an several years later she is working nearly full time, and is a full time Physics major in N Carolina.
She did have a somewhat confusing educational up bringing, she had to adapt several times to new locations. Somehow along the way she received an education. A pretty good one. An education that prepared her for a college education. She may not have gone the traditional rout, but she did it her way.
I beleive the school systems are not there to educate students. They should focus on having as much information and resources available to anyone who wants to benefit from that information. In other words, you can have the most expensive school system in the world, if the students don't reach out for the education, it is of no value at all. All the teachers in the world can't motivate someone unless they truly want it. All the money in the world can't buy motivation. Students are only going to learn at their own pace, and only if they want to. It's more up to parents to reenforce education from an early age.
My daughter is a result of L/A's education system, she's a 3.8 GPA Physics major, that must say something for the school system in town...........

MARK GRAVE's picture

The education system has

The education system has become an organism unto itself. Some call this organism a parasite. Any organism is predisposed to proliferate. In the context of the school system, that means more money. Money fuels the organism. Why do you think there is so much resistance to standardize testing? Perhaps to keep the public from know that what Frank says is true; dumping more and more money into education at some point becomes an asymptotic endeavor.

Jason Theriault's picture

diminishing returns

Like any investment(and schools are an investment), there are diminishing returns. However, since we are behind the state and nation average per pupil spending, I would say we are no where close to that.

Joe Gray's picture

please do the simple math

$37,000,000 divided by 3600 students is a bit over $10,000 per student. It is not the fault of the taxpayers of this city that the school department isn't aligned with the state EPS model and therefore we are reported to spend only $8,000 per student. Numbers lie.

MARK GRAVE's picture

Perhaps they are ahead of

Perhaps they are ahead of Auburn on the diminishing returns curve.

How will more money make the school better? How do you measure this claim? What do you do if your measurement shows the goal is not met?

Just because a fool spends more money than you is not justification for you to spend more. We used to call that keeping up with the Jones’.

Jason Theriault's picture

How about this

How about this - the amount needed to maintain the current level of services and do proper maintenance on the buildings?

MARK GRAVE's picture

One thing is for sure,

One thing is for sure, Government is synonymous with force.

I am utterly perplexed how Americans got the idea that more money means better education.

Shouldn’t outcomes matter?

Oh, that is if we are allowed to measure outcomes (i.e. standardized testing).

Remember that in the world, outcomes really do matter.

Jason Theriault's picture

Huh?

I'm pretty sure we have standardized testing.

And I think that's part of the problem. We teach kids to prep for tests. We need to stop trying to break down education into a metric, something that can be measured.

MARK GRAVE's picture

Okay, let me see if I have

Okay, let me see if I have this straight.

A student is tough applying math operations (add, subtract, multiple, divide) to fractions.

We test to see how well a student can apply these theorems, and that is a problem because it is teaching test prep?

This really does not make sense to most readers.

Jason Theriault's picture

One area I see issues with

Now, forgive me, as I have not studied this issue other than reading some of the materials about Finnland's success. And they said that if they had to deal with the testing regime American teachers do, they would quit.

I think we need to focus on making teachers better, which means attracting the best talent and cultivating it. Both of these activities requires money.

MARK GRAVE's picture

Correction

tough - taught

Steve  Dosh's picture

Why Legislature wants Auburn to pay higher taxes

Friends , Saturday night 19:21 ?
Someone's got to pay for it , sooner or later . Ignorance is not bliss , all you other independant Republicans , fence sitters and RHINOS
There really is no free lunch
Taxes ? Why ?
A : Better health , defense , education & welfare , garbage collection , 9.11 , police , fire , EMS - EMT , snowplows , safe drinking water , PUC ( Public Utilities Commissions - they set the rates for your electricity , cable TV & telephones ) , new - or repaired - rusty bridges and broken roads from over loaded trucks , sidewalks ( and the rusty water pipes under them ) , dog catchers . . ..Wait . ..
" No new taxes ! " says the ' head in the sand ' tea party and your governor and the governor from TX , Mr. Perry
You even need tax money to bury people who can not afford to be buried unless , of course , you want them rotting in your streets
We've seen it before in Guatemala , vultures , too
Happy Fathers Day guys
hth /s, Steve :D

Steve Crouse's picture

The attitude that you display

The attitude that you display is the reason this country is in a seventeen trillion dollar hole we can never hope to crawl out of.
The tax and spend crowd has bled the system dry in the US and is now moving on to the rest of the world by printing Obamabucks to buy elections.
You sir should run for elected office.
You would fit right in !

Jason Theriault's picture

Not true

First off, the tax and spend crowd is paying off the debt
http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/business/2013/04/us-pays-down-national-debt/

Secondly as the old phrase goes "You have to spend money to make money". Spending money on education is an investment. Getting more and better teachers, and making sure they have the resources to continue to improve costs money. Don't get me wrong, there are diminishing returns, like most investments. However, since we are behind the state and national average per pupil, I don't think we are anywhere near that.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

You sir should run forelected office.................

I'm not exactly sure if I'm ready for a President Dosh, but, hell I would sure want to be there for the inaugural speech........

ERNEST LABBE's picture

Frank

Frank you and everyone else would most likely be hard pressed to understand what he was saying.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

OH, I understand Steve quite well........

And I look forward to his unique way of putting things..................

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