The proposed budget for Somerville-based Regional School Unit 12 is about 3 percent higher than the budget approved last year, but a few towns will see their shares increase more dramatically as a cost-sharing formula approved in 2012 continues to be phased in.

As a result of the funding formula change, Somerville will see its contribution increase by 11.5 percent if the proposed budget is approved, Windsor’s share will increase by 11.1 percent and Palermo’s share will increase by 8.4 percent. Whitefield and Chelsea will both see their shares increase by around 3 percent, Alna’s share will drop by less than 1 percent and Westport Island’s share will drop by around 14 percent.

Superintendent Howard Tuttle began presenting the proposed budget to local selectmen in the district’s seven towns two weeks ago in advance of the regional budget meeting scheduled for May 19 at Chelsea Elementary. Residents will vote on the budget in a referendum question June 9.

The $20.35 million budget is about $620,000 higher than the budget approved by voters last year, and the local share for all towns is up nearly 4 percent.

“We put together a budget that considers the burden on the taxpayers, but it also is trying to maintain and improve the best education system we can,” Tuttle said.

The largest overall cost increases were in total tuition and staff salaries and health insurance, which all increased by a combined $539,000 from last year.

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Total tuition rose by $250,842, a 5.7 percent increase, including a combined $321,000 increase in secondary education tuition for Windsor and Palermo students. Retirement contributions also rose by $67,000, a 33 percent increase over last year.

The anticipated state subsidy the district will receive increased by $379,000, but the percent of local contribution required also rose, leading the district to likely receive less money than expected, Tuttle said.

Tuttle stressed that the district has also begun to implement improvements, including $1.7 million worth of energy saving measures that will help pay off the debt incurred to implement the improvements. The district will also expand pre-kindergarten next school year thanks to a $2.4 million state grant through 2018, he said. The district will be offering pre-K for five full days a week instead of the half days currently offered, Tuttle said.

“We are moving forward. We are making improvements, but that’s not reflected in the local share of the budget,” he said of the expanded pre-K.

Last year, the first year without the town of Wiscasset in the district, the amount required from district taxpayers declined slightly, but this year the local share is proposed to increase by 3.8 percent, to $10.3 million. Wiscasset residents approved the withdrawal in 2013 with a 613 to 280 vote.

The district, created after Maine’s school consolidation law took effect in 2009, is now without a high school, but Wiscasset has agreed to accept RSU 12 students at its high school for the next 10 years as part of the withdrawal agreement. It’s the first time a school withdrawal has left a district without a high school, according to the Maine Department of Education.

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Attempts to withdraw by two other towns in the district — Palermo and Windsor — failed at the ballot box last year. About 70 percent of Palermo voters rejected a plan to withdraw from the district and 60 percent of voters in Windsor rejected a plan. The two towns had voted in 2013 to begin the withdrawal process.

Both towns, along with Somerville, will see the largest increases next year because of the cost-sharing formula approved by all towns in the district in 2012. Voters in Westport Island abandoned their effort to withdraw last year as a result of the cost-sharing formula change, which is benefiting the town.

Previously, the district determined the cost for each town using a formula based on each town’s school spending in the year before consolidation. The new funding formula calculates the costs by multiplying the number of students in each town by the district’s average operating cost per student to determine the contributions.

To lessen the initial impact of the new formula, the district has been phasing it in over four years.

In the first year, only 25 percent of the difference between the two formulas went into effect, and it increased by 25 percent each year. The 2016-2017 school year will be the first with the full effect of the funding formula change.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @paul_koenig


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