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February 24, 2017





Area schools fear proposed changes to funding formula
by Lura Jackson


     The preparation of the Calais school system budget for the coming year has been met with delay as a result of a failure on the part of the state to provide projected state revenue by the end of January. Calais Superintendent Ron Jenkins spoke about the challenges caused by the delay at a school committee meeting on January 31, along with other funding concerns that could soon be faced by municipalities as a result of proposed changes at the state level.
      "This hasn't happened for as long as I can remember," Jenkins said to the committee, referring to the delay of releasing projected state subsidy figures. The delay has been caused in part by changes to the Essential Programs and Services (EPS) school funding formula in the proposed state budget released in January.
      According to Jenkins, Governor Paul LePage has proposed approximately 48 changes to the EPS formula, one of which was to completely remove significant portions of administration from state funding. "He has pulled out the lines that include superintendents and their assistants C essentially everybody in my office with the possible exception of special ed, and he has attacked that differently through the EPS formula."
      Jenkins provided the committee with a breakdown of education spending in the state. According to the report, which was compiled from Maine Department of Education data, the amount of the budget spent on superintendents' salaries is approximately half of 1%, while the amount spent on central office support staff is an additional 2 1/2%. Jenkins said that the goal of the governor's administration is to shift that cost onto municipalities and local school systems. "He wants the locals to pay for it," Jenkins said.
     One flaw in LePage's logic, Jenkins explained, comes from his tendency to compare Maine with Florida. Florida spends 3.32% of its education budget on general administration for its 2.7 million students, while Maine spends 5.19% on general administration for its 186,000 students, putting it more in line with the United States average of 5.26%, according to Department of Education data. Maine developed its education system using a basis of local administration, due in part to its rural nature. "Maine, like the rest of New England, established that local control is very important," Jenkins said.
"Do not think this is the only change that's happening," Jenkins cautioned about the state funding. "The governor appears to me to be attempting to form policy through the funding formula. I will say I think that's absolutely wrong. Policy has another way of being developed at the Department of Education. At the moment that's not happening."
      As he concluded his statement to the committee, Jenkins expressed that his concerns are not caused by his trying to protect his position as superintendent. "I'm 73 years old. I'm not trying to save my job. I'm trying to tell you what you need for education."



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