Maine school districts, which will see an increase in state funding as part of the state’s updated biennial budget, plan to spend the money on tax breaks, construction projects, and offsetting long-term costs that are currently being paid for with federal funds for coronavirus relief.
The plans follow legislative approval of Governor Janet Mills’ proposal to add $ 187 million to the new two-year state budget for K-12 training, making the state the first since its appointment by a. Schools could fund 55 percent statewide voting in 2004.
“I think it’s responsible to make sure the money goes to taxpayers,” said Biddeford Superintendent Jeremy Ray. “For us we will not get into a situation in which we add new jobs or anything like that.”
Government funding for schools is based on a complex formula that includes enrollment, community assessment, the number of low-income students, and other factors. Some districts like Portland, which is anticipating an additional $ 6.2 million in government funding, are seeing a significant increase in the updated state budget, while others will not see any additional funding.
Biddeford, like most school districts across the state, has already approved its budget for 2021-22, so an additional $ 1.58 million in government funding there is an increase that was not included in the original spending plan. The $ 40.1 million budget approved by the voters included a taxpayer increase of $ 494,265, or about 2 percent.
Ray said the school department will work with the city council to make the most of the additional funds. He said his first recommendation would likely be to get rid of the tax hike. He then said the district could use the money for construction or capital improvement projects.
“It’s always one of the harder things cities try to fund,” said Ray. “I think this could be an opportunity to take care of some of the things that will eventually hit budget. Maybe not right now because we know the construction costs are high right now, but it could be something we can put money into a building improvement account and use it if we think we can get the best value for that money -Achieve a ratio. “
In Portland, the school board will meet Tuesday to discuss a proposal from the finance committee calling for $ 1.49 million to eliminate the combined city and school tax increase, $ 1.3 million to cut the cost of the custodians, currently paid in federal relief dollars, to the general and $ 3.5 million to create a reserve fund for debt servicing. The debt service fund could support the cost of four school redevelopment projects the borough is undertaking under the Buildings For Our Future bond approved in 2017.
When the Portland school budget of $ 125.2 million was approved, the combined tax hike meant a $ 54 increase for a $ 300,000 home, though homeowners this year are likely due to a citywide Revaluation will see more changes to their tax bills.
In a memo to the board of directors, Superintendent Xavier Botana said a plan for the additional funding also needs to be approved by the city council. If the school board approves a plan on Tuesday, the council will then be asked to consider it at a special session on July 19, Botana said. Once approved by both bodies, any cuts in expected tax revenues would be reflected in the September bills.
“Regarding the various options they are considering for that $ 6.2 million, I know one of them is funding that would impact the tax rate and actually increase the tax levy by zero percent” said Portland Mayoress Kate Snyder. “I’m sure this will be a welcome opportunity for Portlanders as they start receiving their new reviews in the mail.”
Snyder said she hasn’t had a chance to thoroughly study the school’s finance committee recommendation, but she looks forward to learning more at Tuesday’s school committee meeting. She said the proposal to move federally funded custodians back into the regular budget could also be a good move. “You’d have to make this transition anyway, so it’s right to bring them back into the local household,” she said.
Not every school district in Maine will receive additional government funding under the Budget Change Package. Districts identified as “minimum beneficiaries” do not benefit from the additional funding, as the state has already determined that they can cover local education costs without government assistance. However, several districts are seeing growth of over $ 1 million.
In Lewiston, which is expecting an additional $ 1.5 million in addition to the $ 65 million the district is already receiving from the state, Superintendent Jake Langlais said the money will most likely be used for tax breaks, though the city charter also says that additional funds can be used for “emergency expenditure”.
This could include facilities and staff or outreach to help students who struggled to stay connected during the coronavirus pandemic. And while the district has federal funds to help with COVID-related costs, Langlais said they are also trying to be aware of the fact that the money will eventually run out. “School funding has been and remains incredibly tight, especially with aid that includes a provision for the sunset,” he said. “I hope that communities across the state will continue to get involved with schools, so this is a correction to better finance education and not a one-off.”
Ray, who also serves as superintendent at Saco, said the community expects about $ 1.5 million in additional government funding. He plans to recommend that the district use approximately $ 995,000 to repay a negative fund balance owed to the city. Another US $ 300,000 could be used to plan a new elementary school building to replace the Young School. The rest could then go to tax relief or a capital reserve fund.
“We would not use any of these funds for new positions or such places,” said Ray. “It should be examined how we can relieve taxpayers and deal with bills from behind. I want to thank the legislature and the governor for getting this budget through and finally getting what Maine voters asked for years ago – 55 percent government funding. “
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