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Originally published in Compass, July 11, 2013
What the new state of Maine budget means for schools

By the numbers

2014-2015 Maine School budget

Penobscot Bay Press file photo

by Anne Berleant

When the House and Senate chambers passed the state 2014-15 budget, school funding was $29 million higher than this year.

“It’s a crapshoot every year,” said Union 93 Superintendent Mark Hurvitt.

Case in point is when school funding was cut $12.6 million in December 2012 to help balance the state budget.

While the increase looks good on paper, the model used to fund schools, called Essential Programs and Services, includes a new expense—the funding by schools of about half of teacher retirement pay. That equals 2.65 percent of teacher and ed. tech. salaries (that are not paid from grant funds). Schools must pay this money into the Maine Public Employee Retirement fund. (Teachers pay 7.65 percent of their salary to the fund.)

“We were told it’s going to be a wash and it basically is,” said Union 76 Superintendent Mark Jenkins. (Union 76 includes Brooklin, Sedgwick and Deer Isle-Stonington).

The increased school funding “more than covers our anticipated [retirement] expense,” said Carolyn Heller, business manger for School Union 93. “But those numbers are subject throughout the year to be changed.” (Union 93 includes Blue Hill, Brooksville, Castine, Penobscot and Surry).

That extra $29 million may appear to ease budget worries for 2013-14, but the increase was not given to fund the school’s retirement pay burden, but came from “late action in the legislature” to increase special education funding from 25 to 35 percent of total costs, said Hurvitt.

The end result of the higher state subsidy and added expense is that “we get a lot more state subsidy and have a bill we have to pay for,” Hurvitt said. “How it’s going to be worked out with the audit I don’t know. This is not straight forward stuff.”

In addition, that 2.65 percent of salaries schools must pay into MPER is not set in stone.

“I’m not worried about it for this year,” said Hurvitt. “I am worried the half will turn into a whole [next year].”