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SAD 17 EPS bill 'down in flames'/district prepares to 'ramp-up' to full local requirement
AUGUSTA — A bill drafted on behalf of SAD 17 that would excuse it from funding its full local share of K-12 education was shot down by the Legislature's Education and Cultural Affairs Committee during a March 27 work session.
Another bill, submitted by Representative Joyce Maker, R-Calais, and passed by the committee in the same session, would give SAD 17 and other districts three years to "ramp-up" their funding to the required local level.
SAD 17's bill, LD 367, was submitted by Senator Jim Hamper, R-Oxford, who reported it went "down in flames" in an email to SAD 17 Superintendent Rick Colpitts shortly after it was voted down by the committee.
SAD 17's local contribution to education is currently 10 percent less than required by the state's Essential Programs and Services funding model, which determines state and local allocation for education.
A 2010 waiver has allowed the district to raise less than the required amount. That waiver has been extended through 2013-2014, but there is no certainty it will be extended again.
By a 2004 law, the state is required to fund 55 percent of statewide K-12 education and local districts contribute the rest.
The state, however, fulfills only 83 percent of its commitment, according to SAD 17 officials.
The 2010 waiver has allowed the district to peg its funding to the amount the state funds, less than the required minimum.
District officials caution that without the waiver in place, the district would need to raise local assessments more than 13 percent next year, an increase some taxpayers may not be able to withstand.
On the other hand, if the district doesn't fulfill its requirement, it could face a severe draw-down in state funding.
Colpitts spoke about the "ramp-up" during a presentation of the $35.8 million 2013-2014 budget to municipal officials on March 27.
The proposed budget is $1.1 million, or 2 percent larger than last year's and calls for a 6.5 percent district-wide increase in local assessments.
If passed by the Legislature, Maker's bill, LD 667, will require school districts currently underfunding education to overcome the shortfall by a third each year to reach the minimum local requirement by 2016.
But because the amount the state determines the district needs to raise each year isn't constant, the district might end up needing to raise more than a third to overcome its funding gap, Colpitts cautioned attendees of the March 27 meeting.
"We can't just raise a third each year and expect to be there in four years," Colpitts said.
"It's more like we have to make up half the difference each year and eventually make up the difference and get there in four years ... It's a moving target."
Colpitts reported that he was more concerned with the fact that the valuation of some towns in the district were rising to the point that they might no longer qualify for future state aid.
Harrison is already considered a "minimum receiver" by the state, which means that, based on its property valuation, the state determines it can pay for its share of education without aid.
"It's cheaper for them to pay the per-pupil rate for education than a mil rate," Colpitts said.
"You'll never pay more than the actual cost to educate a child in your district," Colpitts explained. "However, the state will contribute to it ... if you don't have enough value to afford that."
Waterford and Otisfield also have increasing valuations and could lose state aid within the next few years, Colpitts warned.
In the case of Waterford, the town went from receiving $1.1 million in state aid in 2009 to less than $200,000 last year. Colpitts estimated the town would lose state support entirely within two or three years.
State aid to Otisfield has also been nearly halved since 2009 and the town could face losing it within five years, Colpitts said.
The district's overall valuation is not falling as fast as the state average, meaning SAD 17 could stand to lose more aid in future years, Colpitts explained.
Since 2009, the district lost $3.4 million in state support, while assessments had gone up $2.8 million, but next year's proposed budget was still $622,000 less than the amount approved in 2010, Colpitts said.
Although the waiver's continuation means the assessment increase that was originally predicted will be avoided, Norway Town Manager David Holt said even the reduced increase might be tough for towns to bear, considering probable cuts to municipal revenue sharing included in Governor Paul LePage's 2014-2015 budget.
His town might have to lay off employees or change department hours to fund the school payment increases, Holt said.
"In a normal year, that would have been an excellent presentation," Holt told Colpitts, "but I don't know that it's particularly sympathetic to the plight that we might face."