News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in Castine Patriot, February 8, 2018 and Island Ad-Vantages, February 8, 2018 and The Weekly Packet, February 8, 2018
Department of Education announces 2019 subsidies
Most local schools come out winners

State subsidies across districts

State subsidies across districts

by Anne Berleant

A change in how the Maine Department of Education calculates funding for the nine school districts from Castine to Isle au Haut means more funding for the 2018-19 school year almost across the board. Only Castine and Isle au Haut will receive less state funding, but only by a few thousand dollars. Other schools will see sizable increases. The Maine Department of Education released its estimated 2019 funding amounts on January 31.

“We saw the numbers and the numbers look pretty good to us,” Union 93 Superintendent Mark Hurvitt said. “It’s a balancing act but, in general, it’s good news.”

Because local school districts are classified as minimum receivers, based on their towns’ relative high property values (according to the state funding model), funding is based on a percentage of special education costs, not primarily enrollement as in most school districts. For 2018-19, that funding increased from 33 percent to 40 percent for each school’s costs this year, which include administrative, teacher and staff salaries, tuition, programs—basically all but special education supplies and purchases, according to Maine DOE Director of Communications Rachel Paling.

But in Sedgwick, while its basic funding went up, the school lost its “minimum economically disadvantaged student adjustment,” which gives additional funds if the district’s percentage of economically disadvantaged students is greater than the state average. This is calculated on the percentage of students enrolled in the free and reduced meal program and for extended learning programs that specifically benefit economically disadvantaged students. This year, Sedgwick received $92,179 as an adjustment; next year it will not receive an adjustment. The board, which approved its 2018-19 budget in January, called an emergency meeting this week to discuss the loss of funding.

In Deer Isle-Stonington, however, the trend was reversed. After receiving no adjustment for this year, in 2018-19 the state will give the district a $208,791 adjustment. Coupled with the percentage increase in funding special education costs, the district will see a projected $215,000 more in state funding.

But until the current legislative session convenes, nothing is certain, Hurvitt warned.

“There is the formula and there is the whole matrix and the politics overlay of the whole thing. I’m still skeptical that the numbers will hold.”

But the projected funding increase is good news for taxpayers, he added, who will see future tax bills mitigated. For school budgets “it’s back burner stuff. It’s not central because all the [state budget] decisions are made after [school budget] decisions are done.”