Property owners in Maine could end up shouldering an estimated $20 million gap in education funding next year that is being driven by increased costs, almost-level state funding and a drop in statewide tax valuation.

The Maine Department of Education this week released its 2016-17 projections for funding under the essential programs and services model that distributes money to communities through a complicated formula based on enrollment and tax valuation.

Among the 248 school districts throughout the state, 131 would lose money, ranging from a few hundred dollars to $2.7 million for the Portland school district, the state’s largest. The $14.2 million funding projection for Portland is about 16 percent less than the $16.9 million the district received the previous year. The cut represents about 2.6 percent of the district’s total current budget of $102 million.

Scarborough is projected to lose $1.5 million, Saco about $1.4 million and Cape Elizabeth nearly $1 million in state funding.

Some school districts, however, are projected to receive more state funding. RSU 25 in Bucksport would receive an increase of just over $2 million, and 113 other districts also would get more money.

Although adjustments are made every year to funding distributed by the state to local districts, Connie Brown, executive director of the Maine School Management Association, said the projections for 2016-17 are unusual.

“There is an awful lot of red on this sheet,” Brown said. “It’s a huge redistribution and obviously there are some losers.”

ENROLLMENT, TAX VALUATION DECLINE

Jeanne Crocker, Portland’s interim superintendent, said the estimated reduction in state aid caught the district off guard.

“It’s a huge amount of money. More than anyone else,” she said. “At worst, we were expecting no change in the funding from last year.”

Crocker, who must present the proposed 2016-17 budget to the school board March 1, said the $2.7 million cut isn’t cast in stone and could change before the end of the current fiscal year in June. But if it doesn’t change, Portland will have to take a look at reducing staff and programs, she said.

“In the meantime, we are working very hard, looking at every possible angle to eke out some savings without cutting into the bone of our budget,” Crocker said. “(The $2.7 million) is really a lot of money, an extraordinary amount of money.”

Portland’s student enrollment is currently 6,812 students, down by about 100 students from last year.

Part of the problem lies in the cost of education, which is expected to jump by more than $12.2 million, largely because of special education services. The state is anticipating spending $986 million on education this year, a $2.3 million increase in state funding from last year.

Other complicating factors are declining enrollment in many districts and a loss of tax valuation. Statewide, tax valuation fell by $1.4 billion, the biggest factor in determining funding.

Lawmakers will have to vote on an education funding bill for the 2016-17 school year during this legislative session, but no bill has been drafted yet.

Brown, whose organization represents school superintendents, said the Maine School Management Association will lobby for an extra $20 million in funding in order to keep taxes level.

The Maine Education Association, the state teachers union, also called for more money and said the state cannot continue to flat-fund education while other costs go up.

Between 2008-09 and the projections for 2016-17, the state’s share of education funding has decreased from about 53 percent to 47 percent, even though voters approved a measure a decade ago that called for 55 percent state funding every year.

“If the state funded Maine schools at the 55 percent level … this would be a much different conversation,” MEA president Lois Kilby-Chesley said in a written statement. “Instead of a loss of $1.5 million for 2016-17 in a place like Scarborough, there would be an increase of more than $3.5 million for public schools in that town, a $5 million difference.”

SCHOOL FUNDING VOTE POSSIBLE

Kilby-Chesley said the funding uncertainty every year was a major motivator for support of a ballot initiative that could be voted on this November. The initiative calls for increasing funding to education by $157 million in the first year by assessing a surcharge on Maine’s highest-income earners.

School districts were in a similar situation before the 2015-16 academic year, when lawmakers agreed to add more than $15 million in education funding to address a shortfall, but that funding came late, after many districts had adopted their budgets. Local school districts generally begin drafting budgets in February and March.

Meredith Nadeau, superintendent for Cape Elizabeth schools, said the district lost 11 students, which affected its funding projections, and also saw its costs increase for special education.

She said the expected loss of $1 million in state aid is significant.

“We’ll start our planning with that in mind, but our experience is that those numbers don’t get better,” she said.

If Cape Elizabeth were to make up the difference by raising taxes, the rate would increase by 4 percent, Nadeau said.

“We’ll look at our unreserved fund balance and talk about options, but last year when the state provided additional funding, it came late and didn’t really help us,” she said.

By contrast, some districts will receive more funding because of drops in their tax valuation. Bucksport, a community crippled by the closure of the Verso Paper mill in late 2014, faced a significant loss because of the sharp decrease in commercial tax valuation. However, the district applied for an emergency reprieve and its funding estimate will add $2 million to its anticipated state funding.