ABBOT – Frustrated that their request for a school funding formula change was not embraced by SAD 4, residents voted 32-1 in a straw poll on Monday during a public hearing to investigate withdrawing from the school district.
Abbot selectmen had submitted a petition earlier this year signed by about 300 people asking for a change in the local education cost-sharing formula for additional funds. Residents asked that the formula for local additional funds be based on a per-pupil count rather than valuation. The local additional formula is the only one that can be changed under Maine law.
Because of a high state valuation blamed on escalating property sales, Abbot pays about double the per-pupil cost of other communities of similar size in the district.
SAD 4 is comprised of Guilford, Sangerville, Parkman, Cambridge, Wellington and Abbot.
When presented with the petition, SAD 4 directors organized an 18-member committee of school board members and residents from each of the member towns and directed it to make a recommendation on the matter. That committee voted 15-3, after two meetings, to keep the same funding formula that has been in place since 1958.
That move irritated Abbot residents including town officials who say the effort was to bring about fairness and equity.
“It’s very selfish of the other towns,” resident Robert Kallgren said Monday of the vote. His comment was echoed by others at the public hearing.
“They totally ignored us,” Selectman Raymond Morse said Monday.
Selectman Jan Ronco said Abbot’s valuation next year would be the third highest in the district at $51,950,000. The town will pay 16.83 percent of the SAD 4 budget that year.
Parkman had 212 pupils last year, yet they paid $100,000 less than Abbot did for 89 pupils, Ronco said. She said withdrawal “may be a worthwhile endeavor to look at.”
SAD 4 Superintendent Paul Stearns, who attended the public hearing, said the town would pay considerably more for education if it pulled out of the district.
The town’s cost for education in 2006-07 is $427,059. If the town withdrew from the district and sent pupils to SAD 4 schools, the tuition would cost $540,731, which does not include the town’s share of the debt service, transportation and special education costs, or a superintendent or agent’s fee.
In comparison, the tuition to other districts based on 2005-06 tuition rates would be as follows: SAD 68 and Foxcroft Academy, $582,660; SAD 46, $573,161 and Union 60 in Greenville, $840,641.
Stearns said SAD 4 ranks in the bottom fifth of the state in terms of what it spends on education, but at the same time, it ranks in the top five in the state in terms of test scores.
“It would certainly present a problem,” Stearns said, if Abbot withdrew from the district because the district would lose state subsidy.
That subsidy of about $300,000 would go to Abbot, Ronco said.
Ronco said a committee of volunteers will study all aspects of the withdrawal process and will report back to residents at a public hearing with a recommendation.
A town meeting would be required on a withdrawal, if that is pursued, and the move would have to be sanctioned by the Maine Department of Education.