On June 12 Wiscasset citizens will vote on their town warrant, Article 4, asking whether the town should file a petition to withdraw from the RSU 12 and authorize a withdrawal committee to spend $55,000 for that purpose.
At the Wiscasset Selectmen’s meeting May 1, and at a Wiscasset Education Research Panel informational meeting May 5, Doug Smith, Chairman of WERP, and Hilary Holm, Chair of the RSU 12 Board, disagreed when calculating Wiscasset’s costs for the RSU. The following looks at these figures and possible roots of the misunderstandings.
Sometimes referred to as “total local dollars,” TLC is the sum of all amounts raised locally (i.e., by taxes from the eight RSU 12 towns) for the K-12 school budget in order for the towns to receive state subsidy.
The Total Local Contributions for the 2012-13 fiscal year budget for RSU 12 is $14,369,061.
The Total Budget for RSU 12 for FY 2012-13 is $25,130,772. After the eight towns pay the $14.36 million, the balance of over $11 million comes from a combination of the state subsidy ($10.25 million), estimated revenue, and a balance forward.
According to WERP members, Wiscasset would be paying $9 million for tuition (.35 x $25,130,772 = $9 million). However, the actual amount Wiscasset pays is $4.8 million, 35 percent of the TLC or $14,369,061.
In her commentary published in The Lincoln County News on May 2, Holm argued the TLC Wiscasset currently pays is 19.1 percent of the total budget of 25,130,772, not 35 percent of the total budget.
This discrepancy has been pointed out to Smith several times, but he said in a phone interview, “that does not matter.” The number in which he’s concerned is 35 percent. “Why is Wiscasset paying 35 percent and has only 23 percent of the students?”
WERP committee members have vacillated and debated throughout meetings, and through publications.
A copy of the RSU 12 total budget WERP presented at the Wiscasset Board of Selectmen’s meeting May 1, had handwritten in the amount for which Wiscasset was responsible at 35 percent of the entire amount. Smith said on May 4, “The transportation budget is $1.5 million, and we pay 35 percent of that.”
As such, the statement confuses the distinction between total budget and total local contribution (TLC). Essentially, Wiscasset does not pay 35 percent of $1.5 million for transportation (which equals $520,000 for transportation) because the stated $1.5 million does not include any state subsidy, revenue, or carryover applied against it.
WERP wants the RSU to calculate cost per student by dividing the TLC by the number of students. (Ex: if Wiscasset’s TLC is $4.8 million, and it has 465.5 students in its schools, the rough cost per pupil would be $10,322. WERP states that the cost per pupil should be approximately $6878.)
In the May 4 phone interview, Smith said, “If you look at cost per student, Windsor would have to contribute $1 million more, Chelsea $700,000, Wiscasset would get $1.4 million back.”
Holm claims in her email, Smith’s calculations erred when he took all the TLC and divided it by the total number of students in the RSU: TLC $13,732,182 (FY 2011/12) divided by 1996.5 (total number of students in the RSU), or $6878 per student.
However, according to Holm, WERP’s calculation does not take into consideration the state subsidy, which would add another $2272 to the cost per student.
Holm said, “If one divided state subsidy per town by students per town, one gets subsidy per student. Wiscasset’s subsidy is $1.05 million, [divided by 465.5 students equals] an additional $2272.
“This means that really the “total revenue to RSU 12″ for Wiscasset is $10,322 plus $2272, for a cost-per-student of $12,604,” said Holm.
Compared with other towns, Holm said in an email, “Wiscasset is right in the middle of the pack when it comes to revenue per student, though more of it comes from local revenue than state revenue. Alna would be $11,945, Chelsea: $13,682, Palermo: $9,930; Somerville: $9,987; Westport Island: $14,228; Whitefield: $11,557; and, Windsor: $11,610.”
Along with the 35 percent TLC, and 24 percent student population, the 71 percent figure crops up most often.
A copy of Wiscasset’s Certificate of Assessment to be returned to municipal treasurer for the fiscal year July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012, the total assessments are $10,353,758. The amount of Local Educational Appropriation is $4,849,627, or 46.84 percent of the total assessments.
According to Holm, the reason WERP members think that 71 percent of the taxes are spent on education is the way the overlay is applied.
Wiscasset’s town manager Laurie Smith confirmed this at the May 1 selectmen’s meeting.
Towns apply the overlay to the Municipal Appropriation, which makes the educational appropriation seem large.
According to Holm, if one were to calculate the other towns’ percentage for education using the WERP calculation, then Whitefield spends 79 percent of its taxes on schools; and, Alna spends 68 percent.
“Most towns spend approximately 70 percent of their tax dollars on education,” if the overlay is applied to the municipal budget, town manager Laurie Smith said.
Holm said, “You don’t need a committee. You can see the numbers now.”
Both WERP vice chair Sharon Nichols and Smith assert that no one knows the numbers.
Doug Smith said that he was told by Maine Dept. of Education Deputy Commissioner Jim Rier that DOE can’t know what the state subsidy will be until they know where the school will be. “It depends on where your school is located.”
Holm said, “I find that a little difficult to believe because the cost is based on the number of the students, and the ratio of staffing to students. Since it’s based on students it’s not really going to change if your structure changes.”
In a phone interview May 29, Rier said, “It is possible to predict the subsidy based on current conditions, for instance the value of the town, the number of students, etc.
“You can make a reasonable assumption of what the subsidy would be. There are ways of doing this, but when you’re creating a budget, the subsidy is only one source of revenue.
“The challenge is to create a budget that includes all of the things [the Wiscasset school system] has now. Wiscasset also needs to take into account how they will propose in the plan to meet their administrative needs, [i.e., superintendent and administrative staff].”
Rier also said that Wiscasset’s real problem is that their town’s valuation dropped about 25 percent over the past three years, and their student population has also dropped.
He feels it is important that Wiscasset not forget the costs associated with running a school system, such as maintenance and repair on buildings. Another issue is the funding law, said Rier.
Rier has been part of the RSU formation from its inception and he has observed a lot of growing pains associated with the RSU model, “especially in towns that weren’t used to being in a multi-town operation,” he said.
“For example, schools that were already part of an SAD were used to operating in multi-school units. However, Wiscasset never had been part of a larger school unit,” he said.
Rier also said, “Withdrawals are extremely complicated and expensive. In the Dept. of Education, we give towns as much information as we can, to help them reach a good decision.
“If Wiscasset decides to withdraw, they will have to do their homework and share it with the voters. There are 10 or 12 RSUs doing what Wiscasset is doing.
“In some cases it was the selectmen who recommended withdrawal, and no homework was done. When you vote to start the process, you should already have a good idea of what some of the components might be. No town should rush into a withdrawal,” Rier said.
WERP chairman Smith said at the informational meeting May 4, “We have never said we should leave the RSU, period.” Smith said there’s a need to “explore leaving the RSU based on the relationship Wiscasset has had with the RSU.”
The voters get to decide Tues., June 12.