Members of the Regional School Unit 23 Board of Directors meet today to discuss changing the cost-sharing formula to make it more equitable among the communities — Saco, Dayton and Old Orchard Beach — that make up the district.

Disputes over how much each community has paid toward the RSU led officials in Saco and Dayton, which had their own school union before deciding to merge with Old Orchard Beach in 2008, to seek legislative permission to withdraw from the district. The bill died in committee, and new Superintendent Patrick Phillips formed a committee this summer to address the cost-sharing issue.

Officials from Dayton and Saco say consolidation has proven too costly and not delivered on the promise of saving taxpayer money.

The current year’s school budget of $42.5 million is about $100,000 more than last year’s budget for RSU 23. That $42.4 million budget for 2009-10 was a 1.8 percent increase over the three communities’ combined spending on their 2008-09 school budgets.

The district, with more than 4,000 students, is the third-largest in the state.

For the current budget year, Dayton is paying 24.1 percent of the district’s additional local funding — spending beyond what the state requires it to contribute to the RSU — but it makes up only 9.2 percent of student population. The town’s share of these costs has risen since school consolidation took effect. Saco and Old Orchard Beach have seen their costs drop dramatically.

Old Orchard Beach pays 52.5 percent of the additional local funding and makes up 20.6 percent of student population. Saco pays 23.4 percent of additional local funding but makes up 70.2 percent of student population.

Although Saco’s share has decreased, Mayor Ron Michaud, who is running for a seat on the district’s board of directors, said the formula is still unfair to the city because of student-teacher ratio inequality. Saco schools have 20 to 22 students per teacher, while some schools in the district have a 10-to-1 student-teacher ratio, he said.

The cost-sharing committee is made up of two representatives from each town — one resident and one board member — and is being led by Phillips. The committee is proposing that the district phase in a formula that would base each community’s additional local funding contribution 50 percent on student population and 50 percent on property value.

So, for example, if a town had 20 percent of the district’s students and 30 percent of the total property value of the three towns, it would pay 25 percent of the additional school costs — 20 percent of students plus 30 percent of property value, divided by two.

If the board accepts the proposed change by a two-thirds vote with at least one person from each community voting in favor, a referendum question will be placed on the November ballot. Each community would have to approve the change.

Michaud said he would like to include changes that would even out the student-teacher ratios among the towns, but thinks it unlikely.

“I know from past experience that isn’t going to happen. The minute you make a proposed reduction (in staffing), parents and the community are up in arms and officials tend not to move forward on it,” Michaud said.

He suggests each community be responsible for the local additional funding its schools generate.

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

[email protected]