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Schools
Comments by W. Matthew Rich

 

I am disappointed in our School Board and its members that includes those from Harpswell.

I have reviewed the economics of SAD 75 and the impact of LD1. When I analyzed the statute, I noted that there was a "saving provision" if the LD1 adversely affects any town, or administrative unit – the Commissioner shall notify the legislature and help to make arrangements for transition to full implementation of LD1.

As many of you realize that if LD1 had been implemented at 100%: Harpswell, Topsham, Bowdoin and Bowdoinham would have all had reduced levels of funding from $40,000 to $500,000. It was only because the LD1 funding was at 84% rather than the 100% that adversely tilted the funding.

Effectively the SAD Board of Directors shifted the unfunded EPS costs to Harpswell and Topsham but forced the subsidy be applied in the same manner as if it was a 100% funded to specific towns rather than the district as a whole resulting in Bowdoin and Bowdoinham receiving a subsidy of more than 55%; their subsidy is 79% and 73% of their EPS costs.. Topsham subsidy is 62%.

(Under Proposition #1 – Fifty five percent is the level the State should subsidize school education plus 100% of Special Education) The statute did not require the School Administrative District to allocate the funds to specific municipalities. That provision which is called the 90-10 split was deleted. (Baldacci wanted it but it was not included in the details.)

Rather than use the formula in effect for 35 years to budget for 2005, the directors ignored the adverse consequences on Harpswell and chose not to advise the Commissioner of the problem – or anomaly that resulted in District 75 with Harpswell, Topsham, Bowdoin, and Bowdoinham..

Under the Pre LD1 scenario – all the towns contributions would have increased by 2-3%.

Bowdoin would have been subsidized at 57% of EPS cost: Bowdoinham at 53% of EPS; Topsham at 53%; and Harpswell EPS share would still exceed the state figure so it would receive no subsidy. Instead the directors forced Harpswell to bear a heavier burden. It increased the percentage subsidy to the other towns and did not notify the state of its adverse impact on Harpswell.

All the directors had to do was calculate the budget distribution using the old formula; 100% of EPS and 84% of EPS that the state funded and review that for its impact on the towns.

They did not do that – they did not hold hearings on the impact to explain to the people. It was: This is only way. They did not consider actively even though the Selectmen of Harpswell said, "what about transition relief?"

The elected representatives all thought all towns would benefit and receive funds. Rep Percy and Sen Edmonds issued statements to that effect in February and March 2005. Their intent was not to shift costs to some towns at the expense of the others. It was if there was harm, notify us and we will correct it.

Regrettably and negligently the board of directors of SAD 75 did not notify the commissioner in a timely manner so corrective could be taken.

In June I attended to Board of Directors meetings on two occassions. I was shocked by the $633,000 increase or over 9% while the other towns were going up only 4% or reduced by5% and 15%. The Board blamed LD1. I later learned that SAD 75 did not send the notice to Harpswell in time to reach residents before the hearing. Call a public hearing and do not tell the people about the dates. That was not appropriate.

The board needed to notify the Commissioner of the impact of LD1 at the various funding levels and did not do it.

As SAD 75 demonstrated in June and again while trying to explain its actions subsequently — Harpswell is not need or wanted in the district.

The other towns have rejected using a per pupil basis for funding. They have indicated that they do not care what the problem is for Harpswell – some of them pointed out that the district would be better off without Harpswell.

The fall meetings were a failure. They did not even develop a recommendation for the SAD 75 which outlined the scope and magnitude of the problem. They wanted to blame special education funding – that is separate and distinct problem. Addressing that would have benefitted SAD 75 but would not have addressed the underlying problem of merging EPS into the SAD cost formula.

There are many advantages to separating. Among them are

SAD75 will not be hindered by Harpswell valuation which adversely impacts the SAD 75 in obtaining construction money. Any new construction would have to partly funded by the town of Harpswell. SAD 75 would not lose any state funding for EPS.

Whether the elementary schools in Harpswell are renovated would be a decision made by the people of Harpswell, – not Topsham, Bowdoin or Bowdoinham.

The SAD 75 problem with dealing with our students riding 20 plus miles one way would be eliminated. It would be Harpswell’s issue to solve.

Our students could choose a high school other than Mount Ararat. If a student went to North Yarmouth Academy or Hyde School or Kents Hill the parents would receive a tuition reduction for the Town’s contribution.

The problem of oversidization of Bowdoin, Bowdoinham and Topsham while shifting EPS costs onto Harpswell and forcing Harpswell to subsidize Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Topsham’s EPS costs as well as their local share would be eliminated. Equating unfunded EPS with locally incurred extra budget items is the same as saying apples and oranges are equivalent. (The EPS and local extra budget items are different functions – All the board did was mix up the numbers to assess Harpswell a greater amount of money.) Topsham plus Bowdoin plus Bowdoinham board members control the SAD 75 Board of Directors 10/14. Guess what? They set the policy and it was at Harpswell expense.

A competent board could have analyzed the problem and presented alternatives. Some of the items the board would have to have addressed are:

Who pays the unfunded portion of EPS? Why is EPS deficit shifted to Harpswell? Is it proper to shift unfunded EPS costs to Harpswell?

Why is the SAD abandoning it long traditional formula application of : Budget less all subsidies equal the District share to be prorated by the local cost formula.

Why is the impact of only partially funding EPS shifting so many costs to Harpswell?

Who appointed Jim Rier to SAD 75 Board of Directors?. Who gave Jim Rier legal control of the Board of Directors? Where is the opinion of the SAD 75 legal responsibility under LD1? Who wrote it? Does the state have the legal right to replace the contracted formula of the four towns? Who rendered that opinion? Does it address the interference with contractual obligation issue?

I attended numerous board meetings trying to understand the process. It was never actively discussed. It was this is the way it is – Jim Rier says so.

Why is Harpswell paying 140% of EPS and the other Towns are not even paying their full EPS costs with the state subsidy.

A competent Board would have considered these issues and been willing to answer all the questions.

I am available to meet with any director of SAD 75 who wants to address or attempt to answer these questions.

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Last edited on 01/07/2010