TOPSHAM — Maine School Administrative District 75 has seen its unemployment costs surge this year, and officials are worried this may be a new normal for the school district.

Business Manager Mark Conrad told the school board Thursday that the school district paid $4,800 in unemployment costs in 2019. So far this year, those costs have already hit $69,000. If the bills from the Maine Department of Labor continue at this rate, Conrad said the total costs this year could hit $113,000.

Conrad said the district normally budgets $10,000 for annual unemployment costs and seldom hits half that total by year’s end. More district employees have been filing unemployment claims this year than normal.

That includes employees who work multiple jobs and lost a position somewhere else, as well as substitute employees who weren’t needed when schools shut down in March. Employees who normally work during the summer could also make unemployment claims for lost wages when MSAD 75 didn’t run its summer programs due to the pandemic. The school district is responsible for paying a portion of those unemployment costs.

Conrad said some employees who don’t normally work during the summer have received unemployment payouts from the Maine Department of Labor for loss of wages during the summer they aren’t normally eligible to receive. The district has disputed those claims.

There have also been some instances of errors in the amount paid to individuals by the school district, and some duplicate billing in August.

“Our experience is not unique,” Conrad said. “Every district in the state is facing this concern.”

Schools reimburse the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund by paying the cost of benefits paid to former employees, according to Jessica Picard, a spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Labor.

Congress recognized that nonprofits and schools would experience hardship due to the cost of benefits during the pandemic and passed legislation requiring they reimburse the trust at 50%, “thus reducing the burden on schools,” Picard said.

Schools can discuss payment plans with the Maine Department of Labor, Picard said.

The district will find a way to pay for the higher unemployment costs, which has two implications, Conrad said.

“One is the impact on this year’s budget and the fact that we need to find the funds,” Conrad said. “The second impact is the way we move forward to put the budget together. We have to look at if we have to seriously increase allowances for unemployment costs, particularly if the Department of Labor determines people who typically don’t work in the summer are eligible for unemployment.”

The majority of the district staff work during the school year, Conrad said.

Comments are not available on this story.