The five towns in Regional School Unit 18 have picked their members for a cost-sharing committee that will review the formula used by the district to determine how much money each town should raise for the district.

The district creates an ad hoc committee every five years with two voting members from each of its five towns for this purpose. The committee’s meetings are open to the public and will probably begin in August, Superintendent Gary Smith said.

RSU 18 has eight schools in Oakland, Belgrade, Sidney, Rome and China.

State law provides a framework for districts that share costs that go above the funding requirements of the Essential Programs and Services model. The components most widely used in the formula are property valuations and student count, although there are other components the state allows communities to use.

RSU 18 has high property values overall, Smith said.

Currently the cost-sharing formula the committee has to grapple with weighs property valuation at 75 percent and student count at 25 percent on a three-year average.

If property values were to be weighted more, the cost for Belgrade and Rome, which are higher value areas, would increase, Smith said. If student count weighed more, higher-populated towns like Oakland, Sidney and China would bear more of the cost.

“At the end, it means we are going to try to shift these costs of education from one town to another,” Smith said. “It gets very complicated.”

While he doesn’t want to predict the outcome of the committee’s deliberations, Smith did say he doesn’t feel there will be a large change in the formula.

RSU 18’s committee has a few returning members this year, including Laura Tracy, administrative director for Primary Care at MaineGeneral Medical Center. Tracy was also on the school board for 18 years and served as chair for six years, ending her tenure in June 2015.

She ran against three other candidates in Oakland to join the temporary committee because she sees it as community service work, which she gets a lot out of, she said.

“I hope it works out that we can pick something that is fair for all the towns,” Tracy said.

She also said she understands residents’ tax concerns. “We have to make sure the school’s impact on the town is as minimal as possible,” she said.

Other members are entering this arena for the first time.

Gary Mahler, a Belgrade selectman, has never sat on the committee before and said he is going in “with a clean mind.” From Belgrade’s standpoint, though, he said, the town pays a fairly large percentage of the school’s budget. While Mahler would like to decrease that cost to the town, he doesn’t know much about the process so he is just looking forward to learning more.

A China selectwoman, Irene Belanger, is also sitting on this committee for the first time, but she said she’s attended nearly all of the district’s school board and budget meetings in the past year. While she said it was hard to say where she stood on the issue before the committee starts meeting, she does feel that the town is in “a good position” with the district right now.

“People are starting to recognize that school costs go up like household costs go up,” Belanger said.

The committee would have to rush to get the work done during the summer if a proposal to review the formula was to be put on the November ballot, so Smith said the district is going to have any proposed changes voted on with town budgets.

For money that falls within the Essential Services and Programs model, the state applies a formula to all towns.

By law, the state should pay for 55 percent of that, but it currently pays about 47 percent, Smith said.

If a community wants the 47 percent from the state, he said, it has to raise its required local share of funds. That amount is determined by multiplying the mill rate, currently 8.3, by the town’s valuation.

RSU 18’s total district valuation is about $2.2 billion, which means it has to raise $16.6 million to get a state subsidy of about $13.1 million.

A cost-sharing committee for Anson-based School Administrative District 74 recommended that the school board review the formula in 2015. The adjustment, which increased costs in two towns by $43,000 and $8,900 and decreased costs for two others, was rejected by voters. One town, Embden, is still exploring withdrawal from the district.

Madeline St. Amour – 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour

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