WINDHAM — When Windham and Raymond residents head to the polls on Tuesday, June 13, for the RSU 14 budget validation vote, they will decide on a nearly $44.8 million proposal to fund schools for the coming fiscal year.
That price tag represents an increase of $1.7 million – or 3.98 percent – from the previous budget. However, it is notably less than the original 6.6 percent increase proposed by RSU 14 administrators in the preliminary budget submitted to the school board in March.
Assistant Superintendent Donn Davis said in an email that the “preliminary and tentative” tax assessments based on the school budget would be more than $20 million for Windham and more than $9.3 million for Raymond.
Davis also said that finding reductions in the preliminary budget was a difficult process, noting that it “was quite a challenge to get our budget to a place where the School Board was comfortable in presenting it as a recommendation to our constituents recently.”
According to Davis, the largest reduction that helped bring the increase down to 3.98 percent was savings of about $261,000 when insurance costs for district employees ended up being less than initially forecast. Other reductions included $140,000 in staffing changes, $160,000 in known current staff retirements, $82,000 in reductions to maintenance, and $52,000 in reductions to employee training.
School Board Chairwoman Marge Govoni echoed the notion that this year’s budget process has been a challenge, in part because of the ongoing education funding debate happening at the state level.
“This year’s budget was challenging, to say the least,” Govoni said in an email. “The governor’s proposed budget has put us in a very difficult position when you consider that not only are we not getting funding that is promised/needed but they continue to expect us to do more with less.”
Gov. Paul LePage offered various education reforms in his state budget proposal introduced in January, including the elimination of state support for district administration costs, which he says would direct money into the classroom for students and teachers.
LePage’s office has also countered claims that the administration is not adequately funding education by pointing to an overall increase in the total state contribution for education and declining statewide school enrollment numbers.
However, Davis says that RSU 14 enrollment is up and its expected state contribution is down. According to Davis, district enrollment has been steady recently and is expected to increase over the next few years – including a small projected jump from 3,220 students this year to 3,250 next year.
This question over state funding at the district level ties directly to the larger statewide fight happening in Augusta right now, as legislators wrestle with how to address the education funding referendum passed by voters in November 2016.
That successful referendum, now law, places a 3 percent surcharge on households with a total annual income of $200,000 or more to help the state pay for 55 percent of public K-12 education. A separate 2004 referendum first required the state to pay 55 percent, but it has never hit that mark.
Govoni pointed out that the RSU 14 budget included an article that would allow the district to receive and allocate any additional state subsidy that exceeds what is currently expected, depending on what happens at the state level.
“We do not take our jobs lightly when we do the budget and I feel that we took a responsible position in considering the needs of our students and the impact on the taxpayers,” Govoni said.
June 13 voting in Windham will take place at Windham High School in the auxiliary gym. Voting in Raymond will be in the Jordan-Small Middle School gym.
Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.