Peter Oceretko

Peter Oceretko

Come November, we, the Regional School Unit 1 voting body, will head to the polls to decide whether to borrow nearly $6 million in the form of a bond to be used to address long neglected maintenance issues and upgrades in the schools.

The RSU 1 board insists that it needs the full amount at once.

It is the responsibility of the respective communities to make funds available for repayment of the bond. RSU 1 relies on payment from the communities through their local property tax, though excludes the municipalities from participating in the discussion. If the voting body adopts this referendum, all communities will be required to participate and will be held responsible for making funds available, whether any community continues as a part the RSU or not.

Last year, the cost share as applied was found to have been adjusted, ironically, to favor one community’s financial responsibility at the expense of the others’. Leadership from all five communities of RSU 1 were tasked to create a fair and equitable method with which to share the cost of operating the school going forward.

After months of discussion, the group unanimously agreed that the benchmark of “fairness and equity” shall be defined by equal per pupil cost sharing across RSU 1.

All of the communities in RSU 1, with the exception of West Bath, receive state subsidy to supplement the school system.

The state determines the cost required to educate the kids and to run the schools, and they express that amount as a per pupil cost. The state then determines a particular community’s ability to pay. The state then, with your tax dollars, makes up the difference and sends that amount to the school district.

Simply, the state says “we want you to spend so many dollars to educate, but you only need to pay this lesser amount to do so and we’ll pick up the rest”.

RSU 1 is a cooperative. The state determines the cost to educate, determines the respective community’s ability to pay and makes up the difference in subsidy.

The subsidy goes to the RSU to off-set the difference in total cost and the collective communities’ ability to pay. And in RSU 1, we have agreed to share costs on a per pupil basis, because it is “fair and equitable”.

The state places our perpupil cost to educate at $11,975. Thanks to the subsidy received, RSU 1 perpupil cost works out to $8,822 for each student enrolled, a considerable savings.

This cost savings difference of $3,153 per-pupil goes directly to the RSU to make up for funding that the communities don’t have to worry about raising.

Have you ever wondered why, if the RSU 1 actual cost to raise per-pupil is $8,822, Arrowsic actually pays $11,581 per pupil? Or maybe why Phippsburg pays $11,580? Or why West Bath pays 11,975? Or Woolwich $9,006? And have you ever wondered why Bath pays only $7,554 per pupil?

Honestly, I have trouble seeing the fairness and equity in that. The state determined the magic number to be $8,822.

RSU 1 is using the state’s cost to educate figure to determine per-pupil cost, which is $ 11,975. So the cost allocation to the communities uses a figure which already has the subsidy applied or included. So the RSU is actually initially raising far more money than it needs to, then apportioning the responsibility to raise it disproportionately. The result is that the greatest benefit goes to the community that receives the most subsidy at the expense of all the other communities.

Arrowsic pays $ 480,000 to RSU 1 at $11,581 per pupil. That’s $115,000 more than it needs to.

Woolwich pays $ 3.5 million, or $ 9,006 per pupil — $73,000 more than it needs to. West Bath pays $2.6 million, or $ 11,975 per pupil. That’s $ 704,000 more than it needs to. Phippsburg pays $ 2.6 million, or $ 11,580 per pupil, $635,000 more than it needs to.

Because of the method used to determine the cost to be raised per pupil, Bath benefits — at the expense of the other communities — by $ 1.5 million.

The reason? They are only paying $ 7,554 per pupil.

I don’t know about you folks, but I don’t see a lot of “fairness or equity” there.

The RSU 1 bond payment will suffer the same inequities because of the cost-share agreement based on the per pupil method as presently calculated.

Also, the funds used to pay the debt will be with subsidized funds, as well. West Bath will bear the greatest burden, proportionately, because it receives no subsidy, Arrowsic, Phippsburg and Woolwich will be somewhere in the middle. Bath, of course, cruises in on easy street, enjoying the benefits but paying a significant discount, because everyone else is picking up some of its tab.

I ask you all to please consider defeat of the bond referendum question, for now.

We can pick it up again after we have put our house in order, before we think about taking on another boatload of debt.

PETER OCERETKO lives in West Bath.

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