WHITEFIELD — Residents of Regional School Unit 12 will vote in November on a change to the way costs are shared among the district’s eight towns.

The RSU 12 school board has voted unanimously for a proposal that includes new methods for calculating each town’s contributions for regular education and adult education, as well as a “safety net” to phase in the changes.

The board’s action Thursday night places a referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot, where it requires a districtwide simple majority to be ratified.

Because calculations would be based on this year’s enrollment and next year’s budget, it is not possible to make accurate projections of how the new allocation method would affect each town’s share of the local RSU 12 budget, school officials said.

If figures remain similar, however, the plan would save money for Alna, Westport Island and Wiscasset, while raising tax bills significantly in Palermo, Somerville and Windsor. The effect on Chelsea and Whitefield would be less, and it’s unknown whether it would be positive or negative.

Towns have contributed to the local portion of the RSU 12 budget by percentages derived from each town’s school spending in the year before the RSU formed in 2009, leaving some towns to pay much more per student than others.

The referendum attempts to achieve fairness by multiplying a town’s number of resident students by RSU 12’s average operating cost per student to determine that town’s contribution. Towns will count their own state subsidy toward their contribution and raise the balance through local taxes.

For adult education, each town’s percentage of the local budget will be equivalent to its percentage of the school district’s total population from the most recent 10-year census.

That was a change from the last time the RSU 12 board considered the proposal, which previously divided the adult education budget into percentages derived from the cost-sharing for regular education.

Residents attending one of the public meetings about the proposal said that might not be appropriate because different factors determine what the two budgets should be.

“Adult education is not based on students,” Westport Island board member Richard DeVries said Thursday. “Adult education is a result of people in a town getting education and has no relationship to the number of students.”

It did not make much difference in dollars whether adult education cost-sharing was based on total population or students, said Finance Committee Chairman Jerry Nault, a board member from Windsor.

At $397,279, the adult education budget is dwarfed by the $25.7 million budget for regular education. Adult education receives money from the state, grants and fees paid by students, and the split affected by the referendum applies only to local tax funding, which is $147,467 this year.

The third component of the referendum is a change to the “safety net,” which would ease the towns into their new obligations.

Each year for the first three years, the district would calculate the difference between each town’s contribution under the existing formula and the new one. That difference would be charged to the town by 75 percent in the first year, 50 percent in the third year and 25 percent in the third before the cost allocation takes full effect in the fourth year.

If a town’s annual contribution were supposed to increase by $100,000, for example, the safety net would reduce that to $25,000 in the first year, $50,000 in the second and $75,000 in the third. A town that saves money with the new cost-sharing method would experience the reverse of that.

RSU 12 will host at least one public hearing about the proposal before the public votes, but it has not been scheduled.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]

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