March 17, 2010

Schools get grim figures on state aid for 2010-11


School districts across Maine learned Monday how much education aid they can expect from the state for the 2010-11 school year.

The allocations reflect a $92 million reduction in state aid to public schools in the year that starts July 1 to offset recession-related revenue losses.

Only 12 of 183 districts will get increased state aid, which the Maine Department of Education bases on a funding formula that accounts for differences in property values and student enrollment. Portland, Maine’s largest district, will take a $4 million hit.

“For some districts, it’s better than they expected. Others will see dramatic impacts,” said Jim Rier, the department’s director of finance and operations.

State aid numbers typically are released in late March, but the department got the figures out about two months earlier than usual this year. The amounts are subject to legislative approval.

The spreadsheet showing preliminary state aid allocations is complicated and required background information from Rier. He focused on Portland as an example.

Portland initially received $17.6 million in state aid for 2009-10, including $14.6 million from the state and $3 million in federal stabilization money.

A $2.7 million midyear funding curtailment reduced the state’s contribution to about $14.9 million and forced the district to cut its budget accordingly.

In 2010-11, Portland will receive $14.5 million in education aid, including $4.2 million in federal stabilization money, Rier said.

That means state support for Portland schools will drop about $3.1 million, from the initial allocation of $17.6 million this year.

In addition, $976,000 of the district’s $14.5 million allocation for the coming year will be dedicated to debt payments for the Ocean Avenue Elementary School, which is under construction. As a result, state aid that can be used to run Portland schools actually will be down about $4 million in 2010-11, Rier said.

That’s better than the $5 million to $7 million state-aid reduction that Portland officials had feared. However, they also expect to lose $2 million in Medicare reimbursements and federal grants in the coming year.

So, Superintendent Jim Morse and his staff are expecting $6 million less revenue from state and federal sources as they prepare a budget of more than $90 million to present to the School Committee on March 3. That puts as many as 120 school jobs in jeopardy.

“No matter how you look at it, the impact of the loss of this funding will be large,” Morse said.

On the upside, he said, “having these numbers early will help us be more effective in preparing a budget.”

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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