AUGUSTA — A bill that would give school districts the authority to ask voters what to do if they receive extra education money from the state was approved by the Senate last Thursday.

The House passed the measure earlier in the week. Gov. Paul LePage has 10 days to sign the bill into law, veto it, or let it become law without his signature.

Local school budgets are usually crafted and passed before the state budget. As a result, school districts often make educated guesses on how much money in state subsidy they’ll receive. To ensure they don’t go above their state allocation, they often budget conservatively.

LD 1475, “An Act to Facilitate the Use of State Education Subsidies,” allows school districts to ask voters in advance what to do if the state provides more funds than expected.

“The Legislature’s biennial budget undertaking, with late budget adoption votes, is notably out of sync with the many school district budget schedules,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Rebecca Millett, the lead Senate Democrat on the Legislature’s Education Committee. “This bill would mitigate the challenge presented by that misalignment.

“By letting voters decide ahead of time what they’d like to do if the state sends more education funding than anticipated, towns save time and money associated with costly additional budget referendum votes.”

When Biddeford gets extra state subsidy –­which has happened twice in the four years that Jeremy Ray has been Biddeford superintendent of schools – the money is set aside.

“It sits in our coffers until the next year,” Ray said. “It works well for us.”

Whether or not he would take advantage of the new authority the bill would allow depends on the situation, Ray said. One situation would be “if we lost a lot of state money for some reason.”

Each year, “the subsidy is typically fairly close,” Ray said. The major reason the amount would change would be “if there was a huge valuation change.”

Sanford Superintendent of Schools David Theoharides said his district could benefit from the bill if it becomes law.

“If we could get the funding numbers in March (from the state), it wouldn’t be necessary,” he said about the bill.

Just last year, Theoharides said, the Sanford school dis- trict received about $200,000 extra in state subsidy. But because the notification of the additional funds occurred after voters had passed the education budget, the money couldn’t be spent in that funding cycle.

With the authority LD 1475 would provide, voters could be asked in advance what to do if the state subsidy amount is different from that in the local budget. That would make the budgeting process easier, said Theoharides.

— Associate Editor Dina Mendros can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 324 or [email protected]

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