Superintendents getting additional funding under the state’s final budget deal say they anticipate spending it on a mix of reducing local taxes, rebuilding reserves and possibly restoring programs they had to cut the first time around.

“We were able to fund some things (that were cut) but some others are on our list,” said Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana. Portland saw its state subsidy increase $2.7 million after lawmakers agreed to add $162 million to education spending to break a budget impasse.

Half of the extra money – the state is distributing $48 million in 2017-18 and $114 million in 2018-19 – must be used for tax relief under a provision in the budget. The only exception applies to the first year, if voters stipulate how any extra state funds should be spent.

State education officials said Thursday that they are interpreting the law to mean that any town that passed an article saying what should be done with extra state funding – even if voters simply authorized the district to spend it as they see fit – qualifies for the exemption. Such a broad interpretation means it’s unlikely the 50 percent provision will apply in many towns.

Many districts didn’t even see a funding increase, according to department figures.

Roughly half the state’s 261 school districts –129 – saw subsidy increases of $40,000 or less – not enough to make a major difference in their already approved budgets.

Education department Deputy Commissioner Suzan Beaudoin said districts that had small or no increases likely are minimum receivers of state funding and have few special education students.

But some districts, particularly larger districts that have more administrators and more students living in poverty or with special education needs, saw big increases. Eight schools saw their state allocation increase by more than $1 million over earlier estimates.

In Lewiston, which got an extra $2.1 million, the referendum spelled out how to spend any additional state funding, so $220,000 will go toward reducing local taxes and $600,000 to eliminating a budget shortfall. The district will use the remaining $1.3 million for emergency use or reserves, Superintendent Bill Webster said.

Beaudoin said the department has not yet determined how the 50 percent provision will be applied to the $114 million in the second year of the budget deal.

In South Portland, Superintendent Ken Kunin said he expects “a significant amount” of the extra $1 million will go toward local tax relief, with any extra funneled to bus purchases, technology for students and special education staffing.

All of those areas took a hit in his original budget, which anticipated getting a $305,000 decrease in state funding.

“It gives us a more solid footing going into the future,” Kunin said of the extra funds. In the original budget “we did have to make some cuts and we leaned more heavily on reserve funds than we would have. We came up with a budget that could limp through 2017-18, but left us with real problems.”

Budget planning for the second year will be more difficult, he said, since the composition of school district populations changes, and state funding is based on those elements.

“That’s where I hope that the (Maine Department of Education) comes up with criteria for what it means, and they do it in consultation with school district,” Kunin said.

Noel K. Gallagher can be reached at 791-6387 or at:

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