AUGUSTA – Lewiston schools are expected to get more state money for education next year which could relieve part of the budget shortfall they are facing.

According to the Department of Education numbers released Monday, Lewiston would get $2.5 million more next year than this year. Superintendents said they’re being careful about assuming the money will come.

“It’s good news, but we need to be cautious,” Superintendent Bill Webster said. “We’re not going to get that much money. There will be an adjustment downward. The state does not have a balanced budget.”

For now, he’s assuming Lewiston could get $2.1 million more from the state, which would give Lewiston $600,000 more. Under that plan, the current $1.9 million worth of cuts that need to be made could drop to $1.3 million.

Lewiston schools are facing a budget that would raise property taxes and cut positions and programs because of higher MaineCare costs of $1.5 million, and higher raises for teachers and staff of $1.29 million, plus other rising costs.

In Auburn, schools would gain $322,283 from the state, figures show.

“What does concern me is that this is very preliminary,” Superintendent Katy Grondin said Monday. “We’re getting messages of ‘Beware: This is subject to change.’ I hope this holds.”

In Sabattus-Wales-Litchfield schools, state help for RSU 4 is shrinking.

“We’re losing subsidy by $210,000,” Superintendent Jim Hodgkin said. That will have a negative impact on the district’s $17.6 million budget, he said. “The local requirement went up.”

In Poland-Minot-Mechanic Falls schools, the state subsidy is projected to go up $393,598, from $9.6 million to $10.08 million.

Overall, state education spending will be practically flat in 2014-15 – up $943 million from $942 million – for pre-kindergarten to grade 12 education, according to the Maine Department of Education.

The small increase is to help districts with a change in state policy passed last year that local property taxpayers start contributing toward future pensions of teachers. For instance, that change is costing Auburn taxpayers $502,000 this year, Grondin said.

How much state money a community receives depends largely on two factors, a community’s wealth or total property values, and student population. When a district loses student population, subsidies go down. When student population increases, so does money from the state to keep up with rising costs.

Auburn’s state subsidy would have been larger, Grondin said, if student population had not gone down. Enrollment fell by 66, from 3,619 to 3,553. Property valuation is down slightly, she said.

Lewiston is unusual in Maine in that it is gaining students. Most districts have declining enrollments. In the past year Lewiston’s student population grew by 149, from 4,988 to 5,137.

The amount Lewiston is expected to receive “could have been a lot worse,” Webster said, adding the state education budget is basically flat. Lewiston receiving more “is a reflection of increasing student enrollment, and the not so good news that property values declined.”

Hodgkin said the Sabattus area population went down, one reason the state money is projected to be less. But the state numbers are off by 15 to 20 students, Hodgkin said, adding that he plans to ask for a correction. “It means about $80,000 to $90,000,” he said.

Webster said he’s concerned about a $9.4 million cut in state aid to schools proposed by the Office of Policy and Management. Connie Brown of the Maine School Management Association said the proposed cut “is a legitimate concern,” and that “anything can happen” before state legislators adopt a budget.

But watching the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee last week, members did not seem poised to make cuts in education, Brown said. “At this point it looks pretty good.”

To see information on state aid to school districts, go to http://www.maine.gov/doe/eps/


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