STANDISH – Of the five towns in MSAD 6, taxpayers in Standish contribute the largest slice of shared funding with more than 38 percent of the pie.
Based on the district’s preliminary budget, the town would be responsible for more than $9.6 million in local tax assessment if the budget were to be enacted as proposed this year. That would be an increase of more than $300,000 from the current year, or 3.25 percent.
Superintendent Paul Penna and Business Manager William Brockman briefed the Standish Town Council this week on a preliminary school district budget proposal for the coming fiscal year.
The two MSAD 6 officials said they were surprised by education reforms proposed by the governor in his budget plan and the preliminary state subsidy, which led them to make reductions from their initial spending plan for the district.
“We were flabbergasted when we got the first print out and saw all the changes that the governor was making in the funding for education,” said
Brockman and Penna made the presentation Tuesday night that outlined a budget of nearly $48.5 million for fiscal year 2018. They said that the initial proposal was actually nearly $50 million, but when they saw the education spending reforms laid out in Gov. Paul LePage’s state biannual budget proposal, they had to make reductions.
Rep. Lester Ordway, R-Standish, was in attendance Tuesday night and spoke during a public comment portion towards the end of the council meeting.
“There’s a lot of talk about what’s happening on the state level, and what the governor is doing with the school budget. And it’s certainly not my job to come over here and speak for the governor,” Ordway remarked during public comment.
Press Secretary Adrienne Bennett, who does speak for the governor, said declining student enrollment leads to a declining state subsidy.
“In districts, like MSAD6, where there is declining student enrollment, state subsidy will continue to decline no matter how much the Legislature appropriates,” Bennett said in an email.
According to a handout provided by the school district at the meeting, MSAD 6 has about 3,600 students and is projected to see enrollment decline by about 90 students. The district could receive about $1.1 million less than the $20.8 million in state subsidies it initially anticipated.
The potential $48.5 million total district budget is an increase of more than $360,000 from this year, which amounts to .76 percent.
The MSAD 6 handout also estimates the total local tax assessments needed to support the proposed budget would be more than $25 million across the five towns in the district, an increase of more than $900,000 from the current, or 3.69 percent.
The school district is made up of Standish, Buxton, Hollis, Limington, and Frye Island – and the towns each share a percentage of the funding. Buxton contributes 27.7 percent of the local funding, Hollis 16.2 percent, Limington 11.7 percent, and Frye Island 6.1 percent.
“We still have to maintain educational opportunities for our students,” Penna said. “And of course, you have to be understanding of the fiscal responsibility that is on our shoulders.”
The MSAD 6 budget must still go before the school board before coming to the individual towns for a vote.
Penna also outlined how the school district is trying to differentiate itself from other districts in the area, in one way by offering a Chinese language course.
“I have to ask you, did you say Chinese?” asked Councilor Greg Sirpis.
“It’s incredibly successful,” Penna responded. “Our students, leaving school having an understanding and speaking Chinese, is going to be an incredible advantage to them on the global economy, which is where they are competing.”
Penna also noted the program has moved from the kindergarten level to older grades, and a large portion of teacher salaries for the program come from grants.
Sirpis also asked where the district would make additional budget cuts if necessary.
“I think we have reduced the bottom line of this budget just about as far as we can … the actual reductions in force probably would have to come out of professional staff,” said Brockman, adding 76 percent of the budget goes towards salaries and benefits.
Councilor John Sargent, who is a member of the Budget Advisory Committee, echoed the fact that many cuts had already been made from the initial proposal. He also suggested that people attend budget advisory committee meetings to learn more about the process.
“I would encourage other people who are not members to join the Budget Advisory Committee,” said Sargent. “You’ll learn a lot, and you’ll appreciate what a great job these two individuals are doing to come up with a budget to educate our children and still try to satisfy the municipal budgets.”
Ordway, who also serves on the BAC, noted his strong support for education, but made it clear that he was less than enthusiastic about the MSAD 6 budget proposal.
“I have some concerns. I’ve been before this council, I’ve sat on this council, and I’ve supported the school budget every time – every time I’ve come up. But I have some real concerns about it this time,” Ordway said.
Ordway pointed out that while enrollment in the district has declined over the last 20 years, costs continue to rise.
The reforms in LePage’s proposed state budget, which include eliminating state contributions towards school administration costs, were also cited as concerns by RSU 14 administrators when discussing their initial budget proposal introduced last month.
According to LePage’s Jan. 6 introductory letter included with his budget proposal, his goal with the potential education reforms is to “direct funding to where it is needed most: our students and our underpaid teachers in the classrooms,” rather than “spend money on a bloated administrative structure.”
Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.
MSAD 6 Superintendent Paul Penna and Business Manager William Brockman brief the Standish Town Council on the district’s preliminary budget proposal.