It did not seem a big a deal last year when the Regional School Unit 16 board of directors decided it would not offer remote-only learning to students who did not have a solid reason for staying away from the classroom.

But it turns out the move pushed 74 students who had been on the district’s rolls to home-school, at least until the COVID-19 pandemic is brought under control across Maine.

Because the district relies in large part on state aid based on the number of students in the three-town school district, officials learned this spring RSU 16, which enrolls students from Mechanic Falls, Minot and Poland, is losing almost $500,000 in aid this year.

What makes it sting even more is that state per-capita aid is based on two-year averages, so even if the number of students go back up in September, the district aid would remain lower for a second year, unless the rules are changed. That would cost property taxpayers in the district’s towns almost another $1 million.

The RSU 16 school board met via Zoom on Monday. Screenshot from video

With a push from Poland, the RSU 16 board Monday unanimously instructed Superintendent Kenneth Healey to draft a letter to Gov. Janet Mills to press her to dip into pandemic relief money to help fill the district’s budget hole created by the increased shift to home schooling.

Residents are going to be asked next month to approve a proposed $24.2 million budget. With the exception of adding a French teacher at Poland Regional High School, the spending plan essentially maintains the status quo in terms of employees and programs, according to RSU 16 officials.

Hoping to sway the state to provide more funding, RSU 16 and Poland officials, along with state Rep. Jessica Fay, a Raymond Democrat, recently met with state Department of Education officials to discuss the issue. While the session reportedly went well, it remains unclear there is money to help RSU 16.

The Poland Board of Selectpersons sent a letter last week to Mills asking she “review the State Education Subsidy formula to account for the low student numbers or address the revenue shortfall through additional funds, perhaps using a portion of the COVID relief money.”

“We have seen many items over the past year be waived or delayed by executive order due to the pandemic,” Poland officials wrote, “and we firmly believe adjusting the student count for the subsidies should be included.”

Healey urged Mechanic Falls and Minot join Poland in making the request.

“That would give us greater ammunition to be able to make an impact,” he said.

The RSU 16 board initially appeared willing to wait to see whether the other two other towns would join the effort to increase state funding to the district, but some members said they did not see reason to delay their request.

“We don’t need to wait for the towns,” said James Crouse, a board member from Minot.

Added Ed Rabasco, a Poland representative to the RSU 16 board, “We should be proactive” and do “something now, not later.”

Stephen Holbrook, another board member from Minot, expressed skepticism the Mills administration will provide more money to RSU 16.

“It’s a hell of a good idea,” Holbrook said, “but we’re beating a dead horse.”

Voters in Mechanic Falls, Minot and Poland are scheduled to vote Tuesday, June 8, on the proposed spending plan.

An online public information meeting has been set for 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 26.


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