SALEM TOWNSHIP — SAD 58 directors began discussions Thursday on Eustis becoming a stand-alone School Administrative Unit by September.
Superintendent Brenda Stevens met with the board at Mt. Abram High School to review the proposal and the district’s options and choices to provide or share some services and to charge for others.
The issues are complex, and directors have to negotiate with the Eustis Withdrawal Committee to develop a final agreement that is satisfactory to each entity and the Maine Department of Education.
“It’s hard for people to understand this process, because it’s pretty new for everyone,” Stevens said.
The Eustis Withdrawal Committee’s consultant, Mark Eastman, said the Department of Education will want reassurance that Eustis students have a high school to attend. They will be able to attend Mt. Abram High School, but directors debated the length of a contract with the new SAU.
Eustis high school students will pay tuition, as do those who live in Carrabassett Valley, Coplin Plantation and Wyman Township. Marc Edwards, a board member from Strong, suggested that existing language requires the district to give any non-district resident two years’ notice before discontinuing a contract.
“We can set a tuition rate, but (Eustis) students don’t have to come here,” he said.
The cost to educate each student is another complex calculation. Tuition reimbursement rates are set by the state and those calculations can change each year, Stevens said.
Based on last year’s budget, Stevens said the district spent $12,216 per student, based on annual costs divided by number of students. She noted that the Maine Department of Education does not use the same figures to calculate its tuition reimbursement to the district.
The annual tuition amounts don’t match, Stevens said, because the Department of Education’s ratios of costs per pupil require taxpayers to fund any overage each year.
Although the district will lose the annual tuition reimbursement for Eustis elementary students, it would receive revenue through tuition and special education billing. Special education services could be provided to Eustis students, but SAD 58 would not transport the students and would bill the Eustis School Administrative Unit for services.
Some audience members expressed concerns that the board has not received or shared enough of the financial information to allow them to prepare their town budgets.
“Is this going to raise my taxes so I can’t stand it, or is it going to lessen them?” asked Mike Pond of Strong.
Strong Selectman Rupert Pratt suggested taxpayers in all towns should understand the ultimate financial effect for the individual towns.
“We need to know what the financial effect is going to be on the rest of us,” he said.