Monday, March 10, 2014
By Kaitlin Schroeder firstname.lastname@example.org
FARMINGTON — Under the proposed state budget, Mt. Blue School District taxpayers will continue to pick up state funding shortfalls, Superintendent Michael Cormier said Tuesday evening at the Mt. Blue School Board meeting.
He said the state is currently funding 45 percent of expenses, classified as Essential Programs and Services, even though in January 2005, Gov. John Baldacci passed a law promising to pay 55 percent of EPS. Mt. Blue’s EPS budget for the current fiscal year is $27 million.
“Maine schools, like Maine hospitals, are owed a huge amount of state subsidy,” he said.
While the law was passed to lower local tax burdens, Cormier said property taxpayers are picking up the difference. The mil rate has steadily increased since 2010, from $6.69 per $1,000 of valuation to $7.69, and Cormier said it will likely need to increase again to make ends meet.
Cormier said he thinks the state has more ways to come up with education funding than cutting school district aid.
“We have one revenue source and that’s the property taxpayer. The state has a number of ways to generate revenue,” Cormier said.
Cormier said one of his biggest concerns is how health insurance will be affected under the new budget. Currently, all school districts pay the same rate for health insurance, bought through the Maine Education Association. Under the proposed budget, districts’ contributions to health insurance coverage would vary, based on each district’s insurance use rate. The state could increase the rate by up to 5 percent in districts with a high rate of insurance use, or decrease rates by up to 8 percent if a district has low usage.
He said the district should be cautious about counting on MaineCare reimbursements for services such as special education programs. The current budget allows schools to file for up to $125,000 in reimbursements.
The state also proposed pushing back when school district get reimbursements. Mt. Blue currently received $990,000 every month in state subsidies. Cormier said the state is considering delaying part of each payment by a month. He said this would have an unknown impact on the school.
Cormier said he believes Mt. Blue will be one of the districts that will pay an increased share for health insurance. That would affect anyone who previously retired from the school district.
He said the district should not count on being bailed out by the $13 million in education money generated by the Oxford Casino.
He said the money is used for Department of Education projects such as supporting underperforming schools, implementing a teacher and principal evaluation program, Jobs for Maine Graduates and transitioning schools to a standards-based diploma system.
Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, who attended the presentation, said he is against the proposed budget curtailments, but doesn’t think the budget when passed will be as intense as the one proposed.
“If I were to predict, you will have some cuts, but it will not be as much as proposed,” he said.
Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252
RSU 9 Superintendent Michael Cormier
Staff photo by David Leaming