2016-07-22 / Front Page

School district gears up for cost-sharing discusssions

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — A school cost-sharing formula that has long been a thorn for Kennebunkport residents is due to be redecided.

Superintendent Katie Hawes said at the July 18 school board meeting that she has given town managers “late July” to get her the names of people appointed by selectmen to the negotiating committee. The 2013 agreement calls on the contract to be revisited during the 2017 fiscal year, with municipal officers in each town appointing one school board member representing their town, and two local residents. The local residents may or may not be selectmen.

However, meeting Hawes’ deadline may be tricky in some cases. Kennebunk selectmen, for example, only meet once in July. They held their last meeting July 12 and will not meet again until Aug. 9. The cost-sharing negotiating committee is slated to meet from 6-8 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 10, and Wednesday, Aug. 17, with an additional date possible on Aug. 24.

“Either the process will end there if we are happy with the current agreement and then be revisited 10 years later, or, if there are any changes made, then those will need to go to referendum on the November ballot,” Hawes said.

The contract calls on approval of a two-thirds supermajority of voters across the entire district in order to enact any changes recommended by the committee.

The agreement notes that, after this year, each renegotiation will take place “within six months after each decennial census results become available.”

Hawes said committee members would be chosen by town managers, then said by town managers and selectmen. However, the agreement gives the appointment power solely to “municipal officers.”

The meetings will be led by Gerald “Jake” Clockedile of Old Orchard Beach, a former school superintendent and business manager.

“He’s one of only five approved facilitators in the state for this kind of work,” Hawes said.

The committee meetings will be streamed live on the RSU 21 website.

Voters in the three towns that make up RSU 21 – Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Arundel – approved the tax model in March 2013. It calls on the annual school budget to be divided based primarily on “the fiscal capacity it each member municipality.”

That means 90 percent of the budget it divvied up based on municipal property values, as measured by the state – a recording that generally runs two years behind actual real estate transactions. Assessed values in tax increment financing districts, usually held in abeyance from state property value calculations, are rolled into municipal totals for purposes of dividing the school budget.

The remaining 10 percent of the budget is split according to student enrollment. However, any long-term debt accrued by the RSU that is not funded by the state – and that includes the $56.5 million renovation bond for work not taking place at three district schools – is divided based solely on municipal property values.

The most recent property tax assessment list compiled by the Maine Revenue Service in January lists the assessed value of Kennebunk at $2.24 billion, Kennebunkport at $1.93 billion, and Arundel at $438 million.

The cost-sharing formula does not apply to the minimum mil rate the state requires of towns in order to receive the state’s share of the school budget, calculated as part of the essential programs and services (EPS) funding model. That model calls on towns to each pay at least $8.30 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The cost-sharing formula applies to the amount the school district spends above EPS, which the amount the Department of Education predicts each school district should expend, based on comparisons to certain so-called “highly efficient” districts in the state.

For the 2016-2017 school year, RSU 21 is spending as part of its $43 million budget, $6.46 million more than provided for in the EPS model.

When the current local cost-sharing formula was adopted in March 2013, the total school budget was $35.8 million and the amount raised above the EPS allocations was $5.28 million. At that time, cost sharing was based on 60 percent state valuation and 40 percent pupil count. The formula change shifted the scales decidedly against the Port, boosting its share of non-EPS spending for the 2013-2014 school year up more than $400,000, to $2.1 million, reducing Kennebunk and Arundel’s share by about $200,000, each, to $2.6 million and $571,000, respectively.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Kennebunkport residents rejected the change, 235-953, while the other two towns approved it in overwhelming numbers. In Kennebunk the vote was 1,340-92, while in Arundel it was 788-19.

And the formula has been a sore spot for Kennebunkport taxpayers ever since. In 2015, in conjunction with the school renovation bond, the town helped a referendum vote on pulling out of RSU 21. Although all five Kennebunkport selectmen supported putting the question to local voters, the initiative ultimately failed.

Today, Kennebunkport is paying $2.84 million as part of its local share of spending in excess of EPS funding. That’s up 33.8 percent from 2013. Kennebunk meanwhile, is paying $3.73 million, up 43.7 percent, while Arundel is paying $826,166, a 44.8 percent increase.

However, the real hurt comes in the new debt. There Kennebunkport is slated to pay $1.1 million, versus $1.3 million by Kennebunk residents and just $250,819 by those who live in Arundel – this despite having the least number of students.

At the time of the renovation bond vote in June 2015, the school district put out numbers showing the bond would cost Kennebunkport about 32 percent of the total cost, based on a mil rate breakdown, which some, including Sheila Matthews Bull, then chairman of the Kennebunkport Board of Selectmen, said was out of whack with the town’s share of student enrollment, roughly 13 percent, by most estimates.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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