WINDSOR — Several officials and residents here think a proposal that would increase their school taxes isn’t fair.

But their ability to block the plan is limited.

A new cost-sharing plan devised by the Regional School Unit 12 Finance Committee would increase the required school-funding contributions of Palermo, Somerville and Windsor by more than 25 percent each of what they are currently paying.

Meanwhile, the plan would benefit the other five towns in the district — Alna, Chelsea, Westport Island, Whitefield and Wiscasset — by shifting the tax burden away from them. Those five towns control 71 percent of the weighted vote on the school board.

If the school board approves the new plan, it would then go to a districtwide referendum, in which a simple majority would be needed to approve it. Results from individual towns would not matter.

People who attended a public hearing about the plan at Windsor School on Wednesday said they think neither the proposal, nor the method to approve it, is fair.

“If the three losing towns all vote against this plan, that’s not enough votes on the board to overturn it,” said Windsor School Principal Rob Moody, who was in the audience. “So if all the other towns that are going to benefit from this vote for it on the board, it’s going to go out to vote. That’s scary.”

Finance Committee Chairman Jerry Nault, a school board member from Windsor, said the committee will consider public input when deciding what to present to the full school board as a final proposal on Feb. 9.

For the first three years of the new school district, the local tax contribution of each town has been determined based on school budgets from the year before RSU 12’s formation in 2009.

As the members of School Union 133, Palermo, Somerville and Windsor kept costs low, so their tax contributions to RSU 12 are low relative to the number of students they have.

“The towns in Union 133 actually ran a comparatively tight ship compared to the other towns,” Nault said. “So, tip your hat to those guys on the school committee in the (Union) 133 days. They basically did their job.”

By comparison, RSU 12 is expensive to operate. Its general fund budget this year is $25.1 million, about $11,000 per student.

The formula in the Finance Committee’s existing proposal has two factors: student count and town population, and the proposal weighs them equally.

Nault said a Wiscasset High School student attending a similar public hearing in Wiscasset last week suggested an alternative: basing each town’s contribution on the cost of running its schools.

RSU 12 Superintendent Greg Potter said he supports incorporating the cost of educating each town’s students into the cost-sharing formula.

“What is fair? What will people support at a public vote?” Potter said. “I think it’s cost. I’m not going to recommend that we trot this out, based on the comments that I’ve heard everywhere. It’s going to fail; it’s going to be a waste of time.”

Although Windsor students make up 18 percent of RSU 12’s enrollment, it pays only 10.5 percent of the local taxes that the district collects. Windsor pays in another way, however, by contributing about $3 million of the district’s total of $9 million in state subsidy.

That money goes into RSU 12’s general fund and does not benefit the Windsor school directly.

“We’re a third of state subsidy,” said Ray Bates, chairman of the Windsor selectmen. “We ought to get some kind of credit for that.”

The selectmen sent a letter to Potter last week requesting that district officials consider alternatives to the existing cost-sharing proposal.

Nault said another possible formula would multiply the district’s overall cost per student by the number of students from each town. Towns would apply their state subsidy toward their required contribution and then make up the balance through local taxes.

That alternative would benefit Windsor and possibly some other towns that contribute large sums of state subsidy to RSU 12, including Chelsea, Whitefield and Wiscasset.

State subsidy is based largely on student count and property valuation.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]


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