RSU 20 facing $207,000 state subsidy reduction

By Ben Holbrook | Feb 19, 2013

Belfast — Regional School Unit (RSU) 20 is facing a $207,000 curtailment in state subsidy the district receives to help offset operating costs following a $12.58 million statewide cut in education aid.

The curtailment represents a cut of less than 1 percent and while RSU 20 Superintendent Brian Carpenter acknowledged it isn’t a huge sum of money, he said it is difficult when the cut comes all at once.

Carpenter said the district can absorb the curtailment in the 2012-2013 budget, but it will need to make cuts in the 2014-2015 budget, as he anticipates more funding reductions.

One area that is of concern to Carpenter is the requirement for the district to fund 50 percent of the teachers' retirement premium. In addition, Carpenter said changes to the Essential Programs and Services formula could further reduce the state subsidy.

The Essential Programs and Services formula calculates the state subsidy based on what the state believes a district needs in resources in order to adequately educate students.

Gov. Paul LePage issued the curtailment order as a result of reductions in forecast state revenue. The total curtailment package called for a $35.5 million reduction, which was spread across state agencies. Maine’s constitution requires the state to finish the fiscal year with a balanced budget.

State law also requires that the across-the-board cuts to departments be fairly equitable.

Education and the Department of Health and Human Services took the biggest cuts, with a combined reduction of almost $26 million. The Legislature has the option to counter LePage’s proposed cuts, but a balanced budget must be passed by June 30, 2013.

In a letter sent to parents in the district, Carpenter outlined what the funding reductions could mean for the district.

“Students’ education must be the main focus and consideration in any and all financial decisions. With this said, educational changes will be necessary. These changes could include the reduction of services, elimination or reduction in offerings, larger class sizes and increased taxes,” he stated in his letter.

Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen in a statement cautioned schools to be aware that more actions could be taken regarding education funding. Bowen noted that the curtailment order contains a provision that would allow schools to reduce spending in lieu of raising taxes; however, Carpenter said the district is in a "no-win" situation where property taxes will most likely increase.

Heather Perry, superintendent of RSU 3, said, like RSU 20, her district is looking at a reduction in state funding. She said the district would lose $87,500 this year, with a projected loss of $86,000 for next year.

Maine Education Association President Lois Kilby-Chesley released a statement regarding the proposed subsidy cuts, arguing that the cuts would result in municipalities' being forced to balance local budgets “on the backs of the students.”

While the cuts are intended to be temporary, Carpenter is skeptical that the district would recover the $207,000 reduction.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” he said.

Republican Journal reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-3333 or at bholbrook@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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