RSU 12 has released a proposed $20.8 million budget for 2016-2017 and is taking the budget to the boards of selectmen in its district in preparation for a May 19 budget vote.
The budget is the first time the district’s new cost-sharing formula, developed due to disputes that led to several withdrawal efforts, has been fully phased-in.
For the first time since RSU 12 was created, the seven towns that compose RSU 12 are “standing on their own two feet,” RSU 12 Board of Directors Vice Chair Jerry Nault said. Alna, Chelsea, Palermo, Somerville, Whitefield, Windsor, and Westport Island are now paying the same total cost per student, which is $12,884 in 2016-2017.
The safety net, developed to ease the transition to the new formula, is now eliminated from the budget. RSU 12 Superintendent Howard Tuttle, Business Manager Belinda Waterhouse, Nault, and other members of the board attended the Alna Board of Selectmen’s March 9 meeting to present the budget.
The meeting in Alna was held the same day the Legislature passed a bill package that included an additional $15 million in state aid to local school districts, reducing the local contribution to public schools.
With revised subsidy figures, the budget was presented to the RSU 12 Board of Directors at its March 10 meeting. Despite fluctuating subsidy figures, which will affect municipalities’ local contribution, the budget’s bottom line remained the same.
It is a needs-based budget, Tuttle said.
The $20,876,000 budget for 2016-2017 is a 2.98 percent or $604,079 increase from the previous year’s budget of $20,271,921. Budget increases were driven by the need to add an additional nurse to the district, the addition of a teacher in Chelsea and a full-time principal in Palermo, and the need to purchase two new school buses.
Waterhouse and Tuttle put in long hours figuring out where to make cuts while “still being able to sleep at night,” Tuttle said.
Due to a projected drop in revenue caused by the end of withdrawal payments from Wiscasset, the estimated local share of the budget is up 4.9 percent, from $10,231,617 in 2015-2016 to $10,857,427 in 2016-2017.
The local contribution in the 2016-2017 budget is reduced by a credit, held in escrow, from an additional state subsidy allocated in 2015-2016 after most school districts had already passed their budgets.
After the credit is applied, Somerville and Windsor are facing the largest increase in their local contribution. Somerville is facing an estimated 6.8 percent increase in its local contribution, from $526,690 in 2015-2016 to $565,910 in 2016-2017.
Windsor is facing the single largest increase of all of RSU 12’s municipalities. The estimated 13 percent increase Windsor is facing, from $2,062,353 in 2015-2016 to $2,366,195 in 2016-2017, is driven by a dramatic rise in Windsor’s valuation due to a multimillion-dollar substation built in the town, Tuttle said.
Whitefield is facing a projected increase of 0.8 percent, from $2,106,573 in 2015-2016 to $2,145,570 in 2016-2017.
Chelsea is facing a projected 3.6 percent increase, from $2,008,554 in 2015-2016 to $2,123,183 in 2016-2017.
Palermo is facing a projected 4 percent increase, from $1,769,735 in 2015-2016 to $1,851,915 in 2016-2017.
Alna and Westport Island, school choice towns, continue to see a dramatic decrease in their local contribution due to the new cost-sharing formula.
Westport Island’s share is projected to drop 17.2 percent, from $865,725 in 2015-2016 to $716,952 in 2016-2017.
Alna’s share is projected to go down 1.9 percent, from $891,983 in 2015-2016 to $882,297 in 2016-2017.
In compiling Alna’s subsidy and enrollment figures over the past nine years, Alna proved to be an anomaly, Nault said to Alna selectmen. It is one of the few towns in the state where the state subsidy allocation has actually increased, driving down the local contribution.
School choice continues to remain a priority for RSU 12, Tuttle said to selectmen, with discussions taking place about instituting a bus route to Edgecomb Eddy School to make the school a viable option for Alna and Westport Island families.
The data presented by Nault reflected cost-per-student calculations that have remained stable over the past five years. The cost per student for system administration has also largely remained stable at under $300, Nault said.
“You’ve spent a lot of time trying to squeeze as much blood out of a turnip as you can,” Third Selectman Doug Baston said following the presentation. “You’ve done a good job controlling costs.”
RSU 12 gave a similar presentation to the Whitefield Board of Selectmen on March 15 and is scheduled to attend meetings in each of the towns in the district throughout April and May.
RSU 12 is presenting its 2016-2017 budget to the towns in the district before the board has officially adopted it to be as transparent as possible, Tuttle said. The board will vote on the budget at its April meeting.
“If there are any concerns about the budget, now is the time,” Tuttle said to the board March 10. “Any changes later on could be a real problem.