Funding for Hancock County schools to increase under state budget proposal

ELLSWORTH — Ellsworth schools are slated to receive more money from the state next year if Governor Janet Mills’ biennial budget passes as proposed.

Her recently released two-year budget allocates an additional $126 million for education, $41.3 million in fiscal year 2020 and $85 million in 2021.

According to numbers released by the Maine Department of Education, the proposal includes $7.84 million for Ellsworth schools for the 2019-2020 school year, roughly $800,000 more than the state contributed this year.

“While that’s really good news,” Ellsworth schools Superintendent Dan Higgins told School Board members at a meeting on Feb. 12, “it’s important for all of us to remember that this is the preliminary budget. It still has to work its way through the legislative session.”

The Governor has pledged to increase school funding statewide during her tenure, including more money for teacher salaries, special education and an expansion of pre-kindergarten programs.

The state has a complicated school funding formula that considers several factors, including the value of a district’s tax base, the percentage of low-income students it serves and the district’s special education costs, to determine what share of the cost of “essential programs and services” the state will pay for.

Mills’ proposal calls for the state to fund 50 percent of the total cost of education, compared to 49 percent this year.

In a 2004 referendum, voters agreed to increase the total to 55 percent, a figure that has never been approved by the Legislature.

The amount of state funding will change over the legislative session as the budget bill makes its way through the legislative process and bills are passed that affect education funding, or change the funding formula.

Ellsworth is not the only district in Hancock County set to receive more money if the budget passes as proposed.

Regional school units 24 and 25 (RSU 24, RSU 25) and Bar Harbor all would get additional funding under the plan. Blue Hill would receive roughly $5,000 less in 2020 under the proposal, although the state’s share of funding for the district would increase slightly.

Higgins said “the best news” is that the funding numbers, even though they are preliminary, are out earlier than in previous years, which will allow educators to plan better as they go into the budgeting season.

“From the educational perspective,” Higgins said, Mills “is off to a great start.”

Kate Cough

Kate Cough

Kate covers the city of Ellsworth, including the Ellsworth School Department and the city police beat, as well as the towns of Amherst, Aurora, Eastbrook, Great Pond, Mariaville, Osborn, Otis and Waltham. She lives in Southwest Harbor and welcomes story tips and ideas. She can be reached at [email protected]

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