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SAD 17 could see 11 percent hike in taxes
OXFORD HILLS — Communities in SAD 17 may have to choose between raising an additional 11 percent district wide – $1.86 million – or risk losing state funding, according to a preliminary budget forecast for 2013-2014.
Superintendent Rick Colpitts and Finance Director Cathy Fanjoy-Coffey presented the projections to the school board during its December 3 meeting.
A decline in local property valuations may require an increase in the local mil rate to cover the difference, Colpitts estimated.
According to state property valuations, Otisfield was the only town to see an increase in 2012 – other towns saw their values fall between 5.4 percent and 2.2 percent.
"Just a change in the mil rate due to valuation decline will impact how much we have to ask the towns to make up," Colpitts said.
He cautioned, however, that the district did not know the FY 2014 mil rate until it was set by the Maine Department of Education.
The state's Essential Programs and Services model requires school districts to raise a certain amount of funding to match state aid.
A waiver that allowed the district to raise less than required runs out this year.
Without the waiver, the district is now looking at a substantial increase in local funds, Colpitts told board members. It could risk losing state aid if it did not meet the required amount.
DOE has given him no firm answer of what the exact consequences might be, Colpitts reported, but the district's funding could be prorated to the amount it didn't raise.
Reacting to Colpitts' news, board members decried the fact that the state was not paying it's share of EPS funding.
Colpitts replied that he had been informed that the state would be unable to fulfill its requirement, due to revenue constraints.
Based on projected revenues and expenses in the coming year, Fanjoy-Coffey gave the board two likely budget scenarios – a gap of more than $1.4 million or a surplus of around $514,700.
A number of unknowns, including a possible $35 million state spending curtailment currently being considered could affect the budget, Colpitts told the board.
What General Purpose Aid the state would devote, the status of the local waiver and federal "sequestration" – also known as the infamous "fiscal cliff" – could also affect the budget, Colpitts reported.
The budget committee also needed to consider changes to programming, Colpitts said.
"I'm getting very concerned about having 28 to 30 kids in a classroom at the fifth and sixth grade level and I think we need to do something about it," he told board members.
Spending levels have been frozen for the past three years, Colpitts said, allowing the district to build up carryover to offset the loss of federal and state aid.
But now the district needed to make some huge decisions about how it would proceed in the budget cycle, Colpitts said.
The budget increase sparked a lengthy discussion among board members. There was general agreement that the state was not providing its share of funding.
Vice Chair Donald Ware said the state, through the EPS model, was forcing the district to raise taxes on the towns.
The cost of schools was affecting local taxpayers and causing some to leave the area, said board member Lewis Williams. He suggested the district focus on necessities.
Some members said the district was providing excellent programs with a small budget but others suggested a budget increase was overdue.
"We may be shortchanging our students," said board member Barry Patrie. "Right now, the resources for our teachers in this school district is obscene."