Crunching the School Budget Numbers (Again)

Like many of you locals (I assume), I read the latest round of budget proposals and felt a fair degree of shock. After all was said and done, the final proposed school budget ended up being $35.5 million, up $200,000 or so from the figure I used for my last round of analysis. And you’ll recall at that point that I cited how yes, the budget was going up, but it was more or less a return to where things had been back in 2015, and that the last two years had seen budget decreases for area towns.

Still, $200,000 is far from nothing, and the article in the Bulldog paints a bleak picture:

The budget would result in a 6.25 percent increase in local assessments. Specifically, Chesterville would see a $116,428 increase to $1.05 million, or 12.4 percent; Farmington would see a $248,819 increase to $4.77 million, or 5.5 percent; Industry would see a $104,147 increase to $924,000, or 12.7 percent; New Sharon would see a $48,311 increase to $1.05 million, or 4.8 percent; New Vineyard would see a $42,515 increase to $743,000, or 6.1 percent; Starks would see an $83,029 increase to $463,000, or 21.8 percent; Temple would see a $6,129 increase to $425,000, or 1.5 percent; Vienna would see a $36,470 increase to $722,000, or 5.3 percent; Weld would see a $60,815 increase to $524,000, or 13.1 percent; and Wilton would see a $46,227 increase to $2.82 million, or 1.7 percent.

Some towns are seeing increases of up to 21.8%? That’s steep by any definition of the word. True, some of that is out of the school district’s hands. It rests on how the state values each town, which goes up or down each year, depending on a number of factors. But I really began to wonder if the school board hadn’t finally gone too far.

And yet I recalled from earlier research that our district is very much on the low end of how much we spend per pupil. The school board was saying this new budget is bringing vitally needed services to our district. Could it be this is simply just taking us back to where we need to be?

So I crunched some numbers, my favorite school budget pastime. And I found what the per pupil spending was for our school district as of December 1, 2017, and I compared it to all the neighboring school districts (since budget hawks often cite the poor economy of our area as the reason for why our budget should be low). Here’s what I found:

School District State Ranking (240 total) Per Pupil Spending
RSU 78 (Rangeley) 35th $16,325
RSU 10 (Rumford) 44th $15,290
RSU 59 (Madison) 93rd $12,659
RSU 74 (New Portland) 112th $12,135
RSU 58 (Phillips) 116th $12,000
RSU 38 (Mount Vernon) 119th $11,984
RSU 54 (Skowhegan) 130th $11,715
RSU 73 (Jay) 159th $11,041
Fayette 169th $10,876
RSU 18 (Rome) 170th $10,846
RSU 9 (Farmington) 177th $10,711

That, my friends, is pitiful. Our school district was dead last among all its immediate neighbors. It’s a sign of the budget crunch we’ve been under for the last several years, as a group in the district has expressed outrage at the current cost of educating students in our society.

So what will the new budget do to these numbers? Shoot us straight to the top, right? With all that unbridled spending? Well, I crunched those numbers, too. Assuming our per pupil spending is increased 5.68% (the total increase of the budget), we end up at $11,319, which would shoot us up to just above Jay, if Jay didn’t increase its budget one penny this year.

But actually, it’s worse than that. As I noted last time, we’ve added 75 students this year, so the money we’re putting into the district gets split among more students. Taking that into account, our per pupil spending will end up at $10,959. Just above Fayette. (Again, assuming Fayette and RSU 18 don’t increase their budgets at all.) I would not be surprised at all if we’re still dead last, even after this budget increase.

I’m not trying to say this budget increase is nothing. But the cost to educate students has gone up across the board in our country, for a variety of reasons. Some like to say, “We did just fine with a piece of chalk and a chalkboard in my day.” Sure, but little things like the internet change all that. Compare the environment our children face today, from smart phones to school shootings, and trying to insist things still be done as they were fifty years ago is foolhardy.

Our students deserve better, and that’s why I’ll be voting to support this school budget, and I hope you do too. The budget meeting to vote to approve this budget is May 7th at 7pm at the high school. That’s where we’ll need to show up and vote in person. It’s where budget hawks have tried to pack the meeting before to slash the budget, and it’s vital we get a good turnout. (Even more vital, as I’ll be unable to attend. I’ll be at National Library Legislative Day in Washington DC that day, trying to convince our senators and representatives to continue to fund libraries at a national level.)

Assuming the budget is approved at that meeting, we’ll then all need to vote May 15th in our town offices to finally approve that budget. Plan accordingly, and stay tuned . . .


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2 thoughts on “Crunching the School Budget Numbers (Again)”

  1. Tiffany Estabrook

    I’d love to have a conversation with you and give you some real numbers and facts.
    Not just what the school would have you know.

  2. My research was done independent of the school. I didn’t contact any of them for any of it. I suppose you could buy into some conspiracy theories that there’s much more to this than meets the eye, but I’m skeptical of that. If you’ve got concrete facts, share them. I don’t give credence to nebulous “real numbers and facts” you can’t share publicly, easily.

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