Initial RSU 14 budget proposal up 6.6 percent

Windham High School 

WINDHAM —The initial RSU 14 budget proposal for the next school year of $46 million represents a spending increase of more than 6.6 percent, a noticeable increase compared to recent years.

The $45,938,065 proposal is up $2.8 million from last year, according to a presentation given by Superintendent Sandy Prince before the RSU 14 School Board last Wednesday, which is available online. Assistant Superintendent Donn Davis said that the potential impact on local tax rates is not known yet because it is still early in the process, and that there are several variables that could affect the potential tax impact.

Prince’s presentation says the percentage increase is higher because of several factors,  including “the failure of the state to live up to its obligation to pay 55 percent of the cost of education.” Other factors include overhead costs such as pre-negotiated pay increases for staff, insurance, and facility maintenance costs that go up every year, according to the presentation.

In 2004, voters passed a statewide referendum mandating the state to pay 55 percent of public education costs for kindergarten through 12th grade. But according to the RSU 14 budget proposal, the state is only paying about 46 percent.

Davis said in an interview that the uncertainty about state funding, currently driven in part by potential education reforms in Gov. Paul LePage’s state budget proposal, has “come to cost local governments more money.”

Davis suspects that neighboring school districts are in a similar situation.

“We’re all in the same boat,” he said.

Part of the governor’s proposed education reforms include removing state support for local administrative costs. Davis said that would shift about $738,000 in costs to RSU 14 – a potential cost increase that has already been factored in to the school district’s initial budget proposal.

In the introduction to his state budget proposal, which was released on Jan. 6,  LePage said that, “Rather than spend money on a bloated administrative structure, we will direct funding to where it is needed most: our students and our underpaid teachers in the classrooms.”

While data in the presentation shows that RSU 14 costs have risen each year since 2011-12, the proposed jump of 6.63 percent is larger than any of the other recent increases by percentage over that timeframe. The next largest increase by percentage happened in 2014-15, when the budget increased by 3.52 percent from the previous year.

In an interview, RSU 14 School Board Chair Marge Govoni stressed that the school budget proposal is in its initial stages, and that there are several more steps in the process before the budget will come before voters in June.

The board has several meetings over the next couple of weeks to receive presentations from school principals and department heads about their individual sections of the budget proposal. Once those presentations are complete, a public forum is scheduled for April 5 with the board’s public vote scheduled for April 24. Voters will then head to the polls on June 13 for the public referendum.

A draft budget timeline is available on the RSU website, with dates subject to change.

“Our job is really to make sure that all of our students get the education that they need and deserve,” Govani said. “We do try to be mindful of the impact on taxpayers.”

“Bottom line, in the end, they have the final vote,” she added. “I think people understand the value of education in this district.”

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

Windham High School