The 2011-12 proposed School Administrative District 28 and Five Town CSD budgets have been completed. The budget meetings for both entities will take place on 31 May followed by the “affirmation” ballot on 14 June. After all the discussion, where do matters stand?

The SAD 28 fiscal year 2011-12 budget is up 1.07 percent as compared to 2010-11 and the Five Town CSD budget is up 1.34 percent on the same basis.

We think it fair to say that the teachers, school administration and schools boards have worked hard to reach this result. That effort is commendable. It comes despite some built-in cost increases that are higher than the percentage increases in the total budgets.

Unfortunately, this is not the end of the story. While the budgets for the coming year have increased by what could be considered nominal amounts, the costs to the towns to fund those budgets have increased by sums that will cause pain for many taxpayers. Here are the figures:

SAD 28: The cost of the 2011-12 budget to taxpayers will increase compared to 2010-11 by: Camden, up $71,409; Rockport, up $253,106.

Five Town CSD: The cost of the 2011-12 budget to taxpayers of the five towns compared to 2010-11 will change by: Appleton, up $7,524; Lincolnville, up $138,374; Camden, down $265,659; Rockport, up $319,670; and Hope, down $22,910.

Clearly, the towns that will see the biggest taxpayer impact of these budgets are Lincolnville (up $138,374), and Rockport, which includes both SAD 28 and the CSD, and is facing an increased property tax burden to fund the schools totaling $572,776.

Why is the impact of these small budget increases so great? Why is that impact so unevenly spread among the towns involved? The short answer: It all has to do with the manner in which the state of Maine calculates the funds that are to be raised from individual towns for the schools and the amount of subsidy that the state provides.

In both Lincolnville and Rockport, state property valuations have increased, reducing state subsidy. That fact, combined with the number of children being sent to the schools from each town, affects the amount of subsidy from the state.

In SAD 28, in the 2011-12 fiscal year as compared to 2010-11, the district is losing $58,065 in state subsidy. At the CSD, the state subsidy loss from year to year is $225,925. In addition, there are reductions in certain categories of federal funds.

In the past three years, state subsidy to SAD 28 has been reduced by $461,460 while the state subsidy to the Five Town CSD has been cut by $1,485,249 in the same period.

Finally, built in to these 2011-12 budgets is $390,130 in non-consolidation penalties. Because the Legislature has not yet acted on the possible elimination of these penalties, there is now no chance that they will go away for the coming fiscal year. We can hope that they may be eliminated for the 2012-13 fiscal year.

Despite the additional burdens that these budgets place upon Lincolnville and, in particular upon Rockport, it seems likely that they will meet with favor among the voters. The impact for the other three towns will be seen as favorable. Furthermore, as is evident, the bulk of the increased tax burden is caused by forces beyond local control.

So, the question then becomes, where do we go from here?

An important discussion is slowly gaining momentum in our schools. The Visioning Process that we have mentioned previously will, soon we hope, be continuing. Out of that process we look forward to ways being found for our five towns to work more closely together to produce improving education results for our children. We anticipate that better learning outcomes will come from innovative ways of working together with 21st Century teaching techniques. The most important product of our schools is graduates prepared in the best possible manner for 21st Century careers. Consistent improvement needs to be demonstrated toward this objective.

Citizens for Value In Education strongly supports this Visioning Process. We encourage all those who care about our schools to be involved in creating the vision for the 21st Century education of our children.

The Visioning Process is important for another reason: Despite the encouragement of VIE to produce 2011-12 schools budgets that would result in no increased property tax burden upon our towns to fund the schools for the coming year, that did not happen. While it has been said before, it was never more true than now that taxpayers cannot afford yet another increase in taxes to support our schools. While in most of the rest of the United States schools budgets are, in absolute terms, being cut, budgets in our districts have not been reduced and taxes to fund the schools have continued to increase. Having achieved a small budget increase in 2011-12, the objective for budget making in 2012-13 must be that there will be no additional burden, for any reason, on the taxpayers to fund our schools.

Part of creating a vision for the 21st Century education of our children is to find innovative, lower cost, ways to achieving better educational outcomes: The Best possible Education at the Lowest Possible Cost!

Alexander Armentrout for Citizens for Value In Education

Rockport