PARIS — SAD 17 has proposed a budget of $47.38 million for the 2023-24 fiscal year, an increase of $614,303 over the current year.

Maine School Administrative District 17 Superintendent Heather Manchester presented next year’s budget during a public forum at Central Office on April 12. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

Superintendent Heather Manchester presented the budget to about 20 residents, town officials, school employees, and district school board members and administrators during a public forum at SAD 17’s central office on April 12. The school board will review and vote on the proposed spending plan during its next meeting May 1.

The budget for next year reflects a 1.3% increase over this year, compared to a 1.2% increase last year of 1.3% over 2020-21. However, last year the local assessments for the communities within SAD 17 were mostly flat.

Under the proposed budget assessments are set to increase by an average of 7.14% districtwide. In Harrison the assessment is projected to rise by 3.85% and in Waterford by 6.21. But five towns, Paris, Hebron, Oxford, Otisfield and Norway are looking at increases between 7.04% and 8.29%. And West Paris’ increase calculates to 11.78% more than in 2022-23.

The shift of higher local burden is in part due to SAD 17 receiving $39,233 less in targeted funds from the state because of a decrease of disadvantaged students. The district will also receive $23,343 less in adjusted funds for grades prekindergarten through grade eight.

Additionally, the cost to operate SAD 17’s essential programs and services (EPS) is increasing by 1.3% from the current year. According to Maine Department of Education statistics, the district exceeds its costs standard by $8.2 million.


SAD 17 has the fifth-largest student population in Maine, following Portland, Bangor, Lewiston, RSU 6 and Auburn. It has more schools than any other district and is the largest geographic district in the state.

Officials and taxpayers from the towns of West Paris, Harrison and Paris spoke about the impact that a higher school budget will have on taxpayers already struggling to keep up with inflation and other financial stressors.

Scott McElravy, vice chairman of the Paris Board of Selectmen, voiced concern about increases to local assessments that become the responsibility of local taxpayers.

“I’m not in favor of Paris’ share going up by $22,000,” McElravy said. “Right now, 56-58% of our taxes go to the schools. What can you do to cut back? What can you do to still educate students and streamline to become lean like a business?

“It’s a complicated budget, no question,” he said. “But people are having a hard time. This a burden being put on them. We never see the schools saying that they’re making hard decisions to save money.”

Manchester countered that some hard decisions have been made but the needs of students are significant coming out of the pandemic.


“We have significant mental health and behavior issues in schools. We are trying to get kids [back] into schools. Their families are having significant issues. It’s not an easy time to be a student.”

The proposed 2023-24 budget for Oxford Hills School District will increase 1.7%, but the hit to local tax assessments calculates to an average of over 7%

During her presentation, she said administrators used SAD 17’s four strategic priorities: healthy and resilient students, maximization of facilities to support learning, recruiting and growing talent and rigorous, relevant and responsive learning, as guidance during the budgeting process.

Some district departments are budgeted to decrease, including debt service, facilities maintenance and school administration.

The main adjustment to district debt is due to financing of Paris Elementary School being retired. District leaders eliminated several special projects in the facilities budget. And principals at Agnes Gray School in West Paris and Hebron Stations School in Hebron are being modified from full-time administrators to teaching principals.

Among SAD 17’s other smaller schools, Otisfield Community School employs a teaching principal and Harrison Elementary and Waterford Memorial schools share one building administrator.

The cost for instruction of students is going up across the boards and will be $941,429 more in the next academic year.


Ninety-five percent of SAD 17’s budget, including salaries, are considered fixed costs.

Manchester told meeting attendees that the district adjusted some positions from the budget to try to offset higher salaries, including elimination of a multi-tiered system of supports coordinator.

A multi-lingual language position will be changed to a stipend-paid consultant and a gifted and talented teacher position will not be filled. Two district leadership roles, federal programs and curriculum director, will have a portion of their salaries covered by federal funds, and costs of curriculum supplies and materials will be shift to funds provided through federal grants.

Manchester said some unfunded requests are included in projected spending, namely intervention ed techs in all elementary schools at a cost of $700,000, the educator position at Roberts Farm, special education ed techs and an additional workshop day.

Additions to the 2023-24 budget include an Oxford Hills Middle School nursing position, a special ed social worker at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School, a board-certified behavior analyst and a new PreK teacher at Guy E. Rowe Elementary School in Norway.

It is also necessary to allocate funds toward building a school to replace Agnes Gray and OHMS. Those expenditures will eventually be reimbursable as construction is carried out. Both projects are expected to take five to seven years to complete.


McElravy asked that before the budget is finalized, administrators look for more ways to alleviate costs to taxpayers, suggesting solutions like instructors who are department heads in their schools taking on more classroom teaching and that more scrutiny be placed on using outside consultants.

He also asked about possibly reducing the number of credits required for graduation from OHCHS and applying credits earned by students at Oxford Hills Tech School toward senior graduation. Currently, the state mandates 12 credits, but students attending OHCHS need 24 credits.

Manchester indicated that she, OHCHS Principal Paul Bickford and OHTS Director Randy Crockett are looking at those options and state-level discussions are taking place.

Following approval of the 2023-24 budget by school board directors, a public hearing will be held on June 6 at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School. The referendum vote for SAD 17’s eight communities is set for June 13 during state elections.

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