This chart shows how much each community in RSU 5 would be assessed under a new cost-sharing formula. There’s not much difference from what the towns are paying in fiscal year 2020. The term RLC refers to required local share and ALM refers to additional local money. Courtesy / RSU 5

FREEPORT — While the $34 million Regional School Unit 5 budget passed in June by a large margin overall, the vote in Durham and Pownal was much closer than it was in Freeport.

Under the spending measure, the biggest tax increase fell on Pownal residents, who saw a 66-cent jump, while Freeport and Durham saw a 45-cent and 18-cent increase, respectively.

At a meeting of the RSU 5 board Oct. 23, members of the Finance Committee said the cost-sharing formula is “remarkably fair.” Even so, they called on the board to adopt a new method for calculating how much each community will pay for education going forward.

No votes were taken on the new cost-sharing formula at the RSU 5 board’s meeting last week. The board next meets at Freeport High School at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 6, when members will be given the opportunity to delve into the particulars around of the new proposal.

The proposed new cost-sharing formula has been nearly a year in the making.

This past January the RSU 5 board requested an evaluation of how education funding is split up and whether any changes were needed to make the process more transparent, easier to understand and a better representation of the communities.

Kate Brown, chairwoman of the Finance Committee, said the goal with the new formula is “not to upset the apple cart too much by making it overly burdensome on one town or another.” A chart showing the impact of the proposed change on the fiscal year 2020 budget shows very little movement in how much each town will ultimately be expected to pay.

There are two sets of figures that go into calculating what each town owes, according to Michelle Ritcheson, chairwoman of the RSU 5 board.

One set of figures is the minimum amount each community is required to provide in order to receive state funding. The other is the additional local share, which is money that communities spend above and beyond what the state says is necessary under its essential programs and services model.

The additional local share is often described as supporting programs such as sports and other extracurricular activities, as well as specialized instruction, such as music and art, while also supporting key regular classroom instruction, as well.

Ritcheson said the only significant change to the cost-sharing formula will be in the additional local share column. The proposal, she said, is that each community would be assessed 85% based on their state valuation and 15% on their individual pupil count.

In applying that formula to the current budget, Ritcheson said the three communities would not see much difference in their overall assessment, although Freeport would see its required local share go down by about $1 million, while its additional local share would go up by about the same amount.

In actual numbers that would mean Durham would pay about $5.2 million, Freeport would pay $18.8 million and Pownal just over $3 million, with the rest of the education funding for the district coming from the state. These amounts are nearly equivalent to what the towns are paying now.

Ritcheson also promised to provide “sufficient time for discussion” at next week’s meeting, which may mean a final vote on the new cost-sharing method would not be held until late November or early December.

At last week’s board meeting, Freeport Town Council Chairwoman Sarah Tracy also said each town in the district should also be given a chance to hold a dialogue about how they would be impacted under the proposed changes.

She said the towns spent a considerable amount of time trying to understand the current formula and would need a chance to fully evaluate the new method, too.

There was not much board discussion last week, but member Val Steverlynk wanted to know why the Finance Committee hadn’t pegged what each town will pay for education to its household median income, which she felt would be a fairer way to determine how much each community could actually afford.

But Ritcheson said without including each town’s overall valuation in the funding formula, it wouldn’t be a true representation of that community’s capacity to raise funds for education.

The cost-sharing presentation and additional handouts shared with the board Oct. 23 are now available to review on the district’s website at rsu5.org.

 

 

 

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