AUGUSTA — With most school budgets already set, additional funding provided in the new state budget came too late to affect the 2013-14 year in most districts.

School officials nonetheless welcomed the news of increased state subsidy on Thursday, saying the money will help them and their taxpayers the following year.

“More money is always a good thing,” said Andrea Disch, business manager for Gardiner-based Regional School Unit 11, which will get $225,650 more than anticipated.

The school district can’t spend any more than the $21.5 million that voters approved June 4, so the additional state subsidy will go into district surplus, which can be carried forward to reduce the local tax effect of future budgets.

Also, if the state curtails subsidy payments midway through the year, as it did in January, Disch said, the additional money could be used to avoid midyear cuts or a spending freeze.

Skowhegan-based RSU 54 will receive $406,111 more than anticipated, which will be divided between reducing the amount of carry-forward funds used in the upcoming budget and increasing the district surplus for future use.

“The fact that this basically takes us back to pre-curtailment levels is helpful,” Superintendent Brent Colbry said. “We were hit with some other hefty costs in terms of charter schools. This is welcome, and it’s certainly not 55 percent, but it’s better than what we expected.”

The new state subsidy figures are likely to factor into a few school district budgets that have not yet been decided.

On June 11, voters in Wales-based RSU 4 rejected a $17.7 million budget that included $9.8 million in projected state subsidy. As the state budget evolved this month, the school board revised the budget to include $175,000 more in state subsidy to reduce the tax effect without any significant cuts.

The state subsidy figure released for RSU 4 on Thursday is about $6,000 lower than anticipated by school officials when revising the budget for a second referendum on July 16.

Before Thursday, Winthrop Public Schools officials were trying to cut about $202,000 from their budget to make it tax-neutral for Winthrop residents. Their target for cuts will be lower thanks to an additional $145,127 in state subsidy.

“What this is going to do is certainly help us to reach that bottom line a little quicker,” Superintendent Gary Rosenthal said. “And it’s going to preserve some programs. … It’s still not a desirable scenario, but it’s better than it could have been.”

In Unity-based RSU 3, school officials are watching L.D. 1566, which was reported out of the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee on Thursday. The bill would allow a school board to declare an emergency and reopen its district budget to spend its additional state subsidy or use the money to reduce taxes in the fiscal year that starts Monday.

After several years of substantial cuts, RSU 3 needed relatively few this year, so Superintendent Heather Perry said that if L.D. 1566 becomes law, she would like to use the district’s $196,424 in additional subsidy to reduce taxes rather than reverse cuts.

If the bill doesn’t pass, the unexpected revenue will be used to offset taxes next year. Perry said she doesn’t foresee the fiscal situation improving then.

Perry said uncertainty about the state budget made it especially difficult for her district to develop its budget this year.

“We ended up taking a stab in the dark and created a budget using the worst-case scenario,” Perry said. “That caused quite a bit of discussion amongst our local taxpayers. If I had known I was going to get $196,000 more, it probably would have made for a much easier discussion.”

Although RSU 3’s budget declined, the portion to be paid by local taxpayers increased, and it narrowly passed at referendum earlier this month.

Hallowell-based RSU 2 built a back door into its budget approval to provide flexibility in case the district received more in state subsidy or the proposal to require local districts to pay a portion of teacher retirement costs for the first time was rejected.

The school board added, and voters approved, an extra article on the ballot allowing for extra funds to be returned to the five member municipalities to reduce tax rates. The $307,762 in additional subsidy that RSU 2 received will be divided among the municipalities based on the percentage of the budget that each contributes, said School Board Chairwoman Dawn Gallagher, who represents Hallowell.

Most school districts in central Maine will receive more state subsidy than they did in 2012-13, including many that previously expected significant losses, such as RSU 2 and RSU 3. Others, including RSU 4, RSU 11 and Readfield-based RSU 38, still will experience a loss of state subsidy.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645
[email protected]

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