BELGRADE — About $3.5 million in funding obligation for Regional School Unit 18 has been shifted from the state to the local community over the past five years, Superintendent Gary Smith told the school district’s board during a meeting Wednesday evening at Belgrade Central School.
The board voted unanimously to approve budget warrant articles totaling $33,750,000, an increase of 4.55 percent from the current budget of $32,280,000.
Under state school funding formulas, property owners in the district are responsible for $16.5 million of that expense, Smith said.
The warrant articles will be presented to voters at a district budget hearing scheduled for 6 p.m. May 15 at the Performing Arts Center at Messalonskee High School in Oakland.
On May 27, a district budget validation referendum will be held in the district’s five towns — Belgrade, China, Oakland, Rome and Sidney.
There was one positive sign that the district’s long-term budget picture might be somewhat brighter. One of the factors cited for the district’s financial woes has been a decline in enrollment figures.
Student enrollment dipped by 5 percent in 2012, raising concerns; but Smith reported on Wednesday evening that the latest figures show that, over the past two years, enrollment has held steady throughout the school year.
“Typically, you see April enrollments take a dip,” he said. “I think you’re starting to see an increase in our enrollment.”
The more students at the district, the less the per-student education cost is, because an economy of scale is gained in areas such as heating and administration. State funding also is linked to student enrollment, so that schools with more students receive more funding than schools with fewer students.
The district projects enrollment figures based on a study that was completed six years ago. According to that estimate, the district should have slightly more than 3,000 students.
Right now, enrollment is 3,083; at this time last year, enrollment was roughly 3,100.
Still, Smith said, it is too early to tell whether the April increase represents a short-term blip or a real trend.
“We’ll know more next fall,” he said.
In other meeting news, Katherine D’Amico, a parent of a kindergarten student, read a letter in protest of a plan to put personal tablet computers, iPads, into the hands of each of the district’s younger students.
“I ask you to reconsider the iPad program,” she said.
She said the move would hurt student health, based on reports that have linked excessive amounts of screen time to a variety of negative health outcomes on young people.
“They need face time,” she said, “not screen time.”
The board members accepted copies of the letter from D’Amico.
Later in the meeting, board member Kerri Oliver reported that the extracurricular activities committee has been exploring ways to raise money for student athletics by selling advertising spaces, such as field banners, at school games to sponsors.
The sponsors would have to be in line with the school’s mission, Oliver said.