AUGUSTA — Local taxpayers aren’t paying enough to fund the city’s schools, according to a state calculation under the Essential Programs and Services funding model.

This year, and in other recent years, Augusta’s local funding for schools has been below the required minimum local share of the overall school budget, as determined by the complex, and much-criticized state school funding formula. The Essential Programs and Services funding model is designed to set the minimum amount required to provide a basic education.

This year, Augusta taxpayers contributed $787,000, or 3 percent, less than the state funding model indicated was their share of the total Augusta school budget, according to figures that Superintendent James Anastasio presented to the City Council on Thursday.

“Regardless of where we are from an EPS standpoint, the citizens get a really get a good bang for their buck and we provide a good, quality education,” Anastasio said.

Anastasio said Augusta is one of only nine Maine school districts, out of about 150, that receive at least $10 million a year that are below the threshold. Waterville and Newport are the two other central Maine school districts on the list.

Last year’s $54.9 million combined city and school budget in Augusta increased taxes by 3.9 percent.

The school budget accounted for $27.9 million of that total, a 2.7 percent increase over the previous year. Of that, $12.7 million came from local property taxes, $799,000 more than the previous year, a 6.5 percent increase.

But to comply with state school funding rules next year, local taxpayers may have to dig deeper.

Anastasio said the gap between what the state formula, which changes from year to year, indicates what Augusta taxpayers should be contributing and what Augusta actually spends is made wider when the School Department ends up saving money compared to what was budgeted. That happens when teachers with higher salaries are replaced with teachers making less money, or when cost savings are found in other ways.

The School Department carries over those unspent money in an unassigned fund balance account, and in most recent years it has used some of that money to help cover the next year’s budget while limiting that new budget’s effect on taxpayers.

Last year it used about $2 million of that money to help offset the budget.

However, that money carried over doesn’t count toward the required local share under the EPS formula, according to City Manager William Bridgeo.

“The dilemma for everybody is we look at a budget that, according to the state, is underfunded,” Anastasio said. “At the same time, we’re carrying money forward. We’ve done some things to save money. We think we have a responsibility to you, and citizens, to only spend the money we need to spend.”

Right now the School Department has an unassigned fund balance, left over from previous years, of $3.6 million. Anastasio said they anticipate using about $2 million of that to help offset the effect of next year’s school budget on taxpayers. He said a concern about using all of that money at once to offset a single year’s budget is there then would be no similar amount of money to help cover future budgets.

Mayor David Rollins said the state’s formula seems to be punishing Augusta for being thrifty with taxpayers’ money.

In prior years, Anastasio said, the state Department of Education has waived the local minimum spending requirement, but this year officials have warned that the state no longer will do so. However, he said it is not clear what the penalty could be from the state for not meeting those minimums. A state education spokeswoman did not respond immediately to a phone call or email on Friday.

The other school systems allocated at least $10 million total under the EPS formula and that did not make the local minimum contribution in 2014-2015 are: Waterville, $438,000 or 2 percent under; Auburn, $2.41 million or 7 percent under; Lewiston, $2.87 million or 5 percent under; Oxford Hills, $1.21 million or 3 percent under; Biddeford, $600,000 or 2 percent under; Belfast, $609,000 or 2 percent under; Sanford, $622,000 or 2 percent under; and Newport, $246,000 or 1 percent under, according to a memorandum provided to councilors Thursday.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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