District Budget FAQs
1. Why didn’t the District hold its annual budget meeting?
Every May, the District typically holds a public budget meeting where citizens are given the opportunity to speak and vote on the budget. The date of the budget meeting is intrinsically linked to the date of the District Budget Validation referendum as the two events must be held within 30 days of each other. Governor Mills signed several executive orders over the past couple of months which affected the voting process. The first moved the spring elections and therefore the District Budget Validation Referendum to July 14, 2020. This meant that the District had to reschedule the District Budget Meeting to be within 30 days of the spring elections. The date chosen to hold the District Budget Meeting was June 17, 2020. Prior to the District Budget Meeting, another executive order was signed giving District’s the option to hold a remote public hearing on the budget rather than using the traditional public budget meeting format. This allowed Districts to receive public input on the budget, without the need to have a large in-person gathering amidst the pandemic. The District chose to hold the remote public hearing on the budget on June 17, 2020, for the health and safety of the District’s constituents. Because the format changed from a live in-person budget meeting to a remote public hearing on the budget, the format of the ballot questions had to be modified as well, to incorporate additional information to members of the public when voting which is usually communicated to the public at the District’s Budget Meeting. Typically at the polls, a budget has already been voted on, and the ballot question is a validation of the vote taken at the public budget meeting. This year, since a public vote has not been taken prior to the election, there are two ballot questions that incorporate language which is typically handled at the live in-person budget meeting.
2. I am confused by the ballot questions and what I am really voting on, can you please explain?
For the 2020-2021 school year, there are two ballot questions related to MSAD #35. The first is the approval of the overall school budget for the year. This year, the question “Shall Maine School Administrative District No. 35 appropriate the sum of $32,315,730.00 and raise the sum of $18,346,351.68 for the 2020-2021 school budget?” includes dollar amounts for the reasons outlined above. $32,315,730 is the entire school budget for the year. For comparison purposes, the 2019-2020 school budget was $31,968,520, so the budget represents an increase of 1.09% over the prior year. The $18,346,351.68 represents the total amount of taxes to be appropriated between Eliot and South Berwick. For comparison purposes, the 2019-2020 school budget appropriated $17,996,984, so the tax assessment increase for both Eliot and South Berwick is 1.94%.
A yes or no vote on question #1 is an approval or disapproval of the school budget. The second is the approval of the adult education budget. This year only, a second question “Shall the District be authorized to appropriate $109,259.00 as the local share, with authorization to spend any additional, incidental, or miscellaneous receipts in the interest and for the well-being of the adult education program?” has been added to the ballot for the approval and authorization to raise and expend funds for the adult education program. For comparison purposes, the 2019-2020 adult education appropriation amount was $107,749, so the appropriation increase for Adult Education represents a 1.40% appropriation increase.
A yes or no vote on question #2 is an approval or disapproval of the adult education budget only.
3. Why is the District spending $4.8 million dollars in excess of State’s Essential Programs and Services allocation model as detailed in Ballot Question #1?
This topic is usually presented and discussed at our live in-person budget meeting, but this year the District was not given the opportunity to discuss this information prior to it being presented on the ballot. The reasons usually discussed at our budget meeting include the following:
● Because the state has yet to reach its required 55% funding level responsibility, the EPS funding formula has become a cost-containment mechanism.
● The EPS funding formula is based on statewide average costs for supplies and services and does not adjust for local cost variations.
● In order to attract and retain highly qualified teaching staff, our teacher salaries are compensated approximately 20% higher than the state average, the funding formula only allows for a 6% regional adjustment.
● EPS funds only about ¼ of our athletic and cocurricular program costs.
● For the safety of our students, we provide more extensive transportation services than recognized by the EPS formula.
● Because of the importance we place on students and staff learning to use technology, we spend more on technology than the EPS formula allows.
● For the safety and welfare of our students, we provide a nurse in each school building, the EPS formula does not allow for a nurse in each building.
● To facilitate and enhance the opportunity for our students to maximize their educational experience we provide a greater level of counseling services than required by the EPS funding formula.
● Because of the rise in the cost of health insurance, the cost of our employee benefits is about 30% of salary and wages, the funding formula caps them at 19%.
● Despite all of the above, MSAD 35 per-pupil costs (a way of comparing schools of different sizes) are comparable with the State Average.
Every year, the District spends in excess of the amount which is allowed under the Essential Programs and Services Funding Act. This year is not an exception, it is just being shown on the ballot this year because a live in-person budget meeting was not held prior to the election.