February 6, 2012

Districts win, lose pieces of aid pie

Already facing federal cutbacks, those losing under the state formula find the prospect 'devastating.'

By Kelley Bouchard kbouchard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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click image to enlarge

Jessy Brewer, left, and Kiara Neal work on their laptops in Ann Young’s math class at King Middle School. Portland expects to receive 6 percent more state school aid in 2013.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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Portland faces a $2.1 million hole in the wake of the jobs bill, as well as rising costs in nearly every budget category and the prospect of dwindling revenues on the municipal side.

Portland's state-aid allocation is expected to increase, from $13.2 million to $14 million, because its school enrollment decreased less than 1 percent, from 6,997 students to 6,953 students, and its property valuation fell 3.7 percent, from $8.2 billion to $7.9 billion.

"I feel like we're going into the toughest budget year ever," said Kate Snyder, Portland's school board chairwoman.

The finance committees of Portland's school board and City Council are scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss mutual concerns. Portland Superintendent Jim Morse is expected to deliver his followup to this year's $91.6 million budget on March 6.


Prospects are just as tough or tougher in districts where state-aid allocations are going down, including Brunswick, where the property valuation dropped 2.7 percent, from $2.2 billion to $2.1 billion, and school enrollment dropped 4 percent, from 2,568 students to 2,463 students.

With the naval air base closing, the district will lose $1 million in federal impact aid that it used to get for educating children of people who lived or worked on the base, said Superintendent Paul Perzanoski.

School consolidation also continues to take a toll, even though Brunswick has two fewer school buildings. Students from neighboring Durham now attend Freeport High School as part of Regional School Unit 5, which has reduced tuition dollars from $1 million per year for 180 students to $220,000 this year for the remaining 28 students, Perzanoski said. The annual tuition for the remaining nine Durham students is expected to drop to $70,000 in the coming year.

Plus, Brunswick faces a $693,000 hole after the jobs bill, Perzanoski said. The district has eliminated 90 positions in the last three years, to the point that its current $33.3 million budget is lower than the $33.6 million budget in 2007-08.

"The impact for us is cumulative," Perzanoski said. "We're going to have to cut programs and look at deeper staff cuts. This is a catastrophic situation. The community is going to have to make some tough decisions."

Cape Elizabeth's state-aid allocation is expected to drop $272,286, from $2.3 million to $2 million, in part because its school enrollment dropped nearly 1 percent, from 1,696 students to 1,683 students, while its property valuation held steady at $1.8 billion. Cape's state-aid loss pales in comparison to other districts, but it may lead to some tough decisions nonetheless.

"That's on top of a $452,000 revenue reduction because of the jobs bill," said Pauline Aportria, Cape's school business manager. Superintendent Meredith Nadeau will present her 2012-13 budget to the school board on Feb. 28.

Westbrook's $607,000 decrease in state aid compounds a $588,000 revenue reduction after the jobs bill, an expected $1 million spending increase for contractual salary growth and a possible $250,000 increase in fuel costs.

Superintendent Gousse plans to deliver his follow-up to this year's $31 million budget to the Westbrook School Committee on Wednesday. He's anticipating a $500,000 savings from the proposed closing of the Prides Corner School, but he wouldn't say whether additional positions or programs will be cut.

"I will do my best to do what's responsible," Gousse said. "We were preparing to tighten our belts, but how is this formula fair to Westbrook students and taxpayers?"

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



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