AUGUSTA — Changes to the state’s funding formula for schools will benefit most school districts in central Maine.

The Act to Restore Equity in Education Funding, which Gov. Paul LePage signed this week, tweaks the Essential Programs and Services formula to shift money toward rural school districts and those that are rich in property value but poor in income.

It takes effect for the 2012-13 school year and affects $6 million of the $914 million the state will provide to school districts that year — about two-thirds of 1 percent.

“It doesn’t change the total amount of state commitment, it just redistributes it,” said Jim Rier, deputy commissioner for the Department of Education.

Precise figures for the law’s impact on school districts are not yet available because the state’s allocation for each district is recalculated every year based on several factors, including enrollment, special education needs, local property valuation and more.

One analysis prepared for the Legislature examines the hypothetical impact of the reforms if applied to the state subsidy for 2011-12 and is a “reasonable predictor” of what could happen the following year, Rier said.

Districts with high property values in coastal areas and near Sebago Lake will benefit most, while municipal school departments in southern Maine will be the biggest losers.

But all school administrative units in the state should see their state subsidy increase in 2012-13 — or stay flat, for many of the smallest units — thanks to an additional $19 million in the state budget for schools.

Locally, the impact of the reforms should be small and mostly positive.

Of 16 districts in central Maine, 10 are predicted to receive more money because of the new law.

For eight districts, the impact — negative or positive — is calculated at less than $10,000.

The Winthrop public school system stands to receive about $100,000 more than it would have under the prior formula; the Vassalboro School Department, about $70,000 more.

Skowhegan-based Regional School Unit 54 stands to receive about $150,000 less than it would have — equivalent to about 1 percent of this year’s state subsidy.

Of the three reforms in the law, Rier said, the most significant in terms of fiscal impact is one that increases support staff ratios by 10 percent in school administrative units with fewer than 1,200 students.

In central Maine, that favors Alternative Organizational Structure 97, composed of Winthrop and Fayette, which has a total enrollment of about 1,000.

While the EPS changes are a boon for Winthrop, they have virtually no impact on Fayette, which has a hypothetical impact of $213 more in state subsidy coming to it, according to the legislative analysis.

Another change to the EPS formula relates to the way the state calculates a community’s ability to pay for its schools, which traditionally has been based on property values.

Now, school units that receive a state minimum subsidy because of high property values will receive more money if their percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch is higher than the state average.

That will redistribute about $2 million to 17 school units — none in the capital area, Rier said.

A final reform eliminates a regional cost of labor index as a factor in calculating how much a school unit should pay in employee benefits. The index still applies to salaries.

Superintendent Greg Potter said that will help his district: Regional School Unit 12, which educates students in Gardiner, West Gardiner, Pittston and Randolph.

RSU 12’s index is 0.95 out of 1.0, meaning its EPS includes less money for paying benefits than school units in some other parts of the state receive.

Despite that change, RSU 12 stands to take a slight hit from the new law — about $29,000.

“I knew it was going to be some sort of small impact. I’m not overly concerned,” Potter said. “We’re hoping to see better news for the region from that additional infusion of money into what the state will distribute to the schools.”

The additional $19 million in the state budget should translate to $226,111 more in state subsidy for RSU 12.

The EPS changes could provide Augusta public schools an extra $29,000, which came as a relief to Business Director Karla Miller.

“We were concerned, because we’re not considered rural, that it would affect us and we would have to make up that difference if we lost subsidy,” she said.

The impact of the new law is small, but it’s money that local taxpayers won’t have to pay, Miller said.

“That is awesome,” she said. “I just hope it stays true.”

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]


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