The Portland school district is expecting to get nearly $1 million less in state education aid this year than what it received last year, but other districts in southern Maine will see higher levels of state funding under new allocations published by the Maine Department of Education.

Overall, school districts around Maine are likely to see relatively stable state funding levels this year with a mix of gains and losses. The state is picking up slightly more of the cost of education and also has adjusted its funding formula to account for temporary declines in enrollment due to COVID-19 and to ensure that schools don’t run into problems providing adequate staff next year.

“I think overall the subsidy amounts are better than what most superintendents anticipated, in large part due to Gov. (Janet) Mills and her willingness to support education,” said Gorham Superintendent Heather Perry, who chairs the finance committee of the Maine School Superintendents Association.

The annual allocations, posted online by the Maine Department of Education, spell out how much state money is sent to local school districts for the upcoming year, based on the state budget. District officials need the figures to determine their budgets for the fiscal year beginning in July.

The state has a complicated funding formula based on several factors including enrollment, the value of a district’s property tax base, the percentage of low-income students it serves and special education costs. The formula determines how much money should be raised at a minimum locally and how much the state will contribute, though most districts have budgets that are larger than what the state says is minimally required and pick up the additional costs locally.

Both Portland and South Portland, two school districts that saw property values increase at a rate faster than the state as a whole, are expecting to be negatively impacted in this year’s subsidies. Portland, the state’s largest district, is expecting to receive a subsidy of $17.7 million compared with $18.2 million last year, according to a state spreadsheet of allocations.

However, Miranda Fasulo, the executive director for budget and finance for Portland Public Schools, said that there are a handful of adjustments that will result in a total loss of about $950,000 in state funding for Portland in the coming school year, including $175,000 in pre-K funding losses that will carry over from this year. The total budget is currently $119.9 million.

“We have been saying we would lose state funding for a while,” Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana said. “Largely, it is driven by the increased state valuation for Portland. We are grateful for Gov. Mills’ allocation of additional funding for pre-K-12 education and tweaks that were made to the formula (to account for the decrease in enrollment statewide) which drove down the mill rate, or we would have seen a much larger decrease.”

South Portland is anticipating a loss of about $460,000, or around 7 percent, in state subsidy. In a normal year, the district typically faces about $1 million in increased costs for things like benefits and contracted salary increases. Last year’s budget was approved at $53 million. “We’re starting about $1.5 million in the hole, so that’s worrisome,” Superintendent Ken Kunin said.

Most districts around Maine had declines in enrollment this year because of the pandemic, prompting concerns about a loss of funding at the same time enrollment is likely to return to normal in the fall if the pandemic subsides. In response, the state has adjusted the student-to-teacher ratio it uses in the formula, from a 17:1 to a 16:1 at the elementary level, to help districts preserve staffing numbers.

“That was awesome,” Perry said. “That was a very creative move by the state. I was actually quite impressed they thought of that as an adjustment.”

Gorham is expecting to see about $20.2 million in state subsidy this year, an increase of about $460,000 or 2 percent from last year. Perry said special education costs gave the district a boost in state funding this year, though they also lost about $90,000 in state funding for disadvantaged students. That’s likely due to fewer students filling out free-and-reduced lunch applications because of federal waivers that made school meals free for all students this year, but could have created a lower count of low-income students.

Westbrook also saw an increase of about 2 percent in its subsidy, from $17.5 million to $17.8 million, according to the state projections. Sanford saw an increase of less than 1 percent, from $38.9 million to $39.1 million, while Brunswick saw a 7 percent decrease, from $12.3 million to $11.5 million.

The projections come as districts are headed into what is expected to be a challenging budget year. While many schools are anticipating having students in-person in the fall, there still will likely be additional pandemic-related costs for things like school nurses, personal protective equipment or addressing learning loss.

“There are federal funds, but there are strings attached,” Perry said. “So it’s difficult maneuvering as a superintendent to put together a budget that balances all those needs.”

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