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Even with more state funding, Maine school officials expect a challenging budget picture

Children are picked up by their school bus following a day off due to a winter storm, Wednesday, March 15, 2023, in Poland, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
/
AP
Children are picked up by their school bus following a day off due to a winter storm, Wednesday, March 15, 2023, in Poland, Maine.

Local school officials say a loss of federal COVID relief funding — and a new paid leave law — could pose challenges for their upcoming school budget planning, even with more funding coming from the state.

According to early funding estimates released by the state late last month, more than 180 school districts are projected to receive more state aid next year.

That comes after Gov. Janet Mills said in her State of the State address that she plans to include an additional $22.6 million in general purpose aid to schools, in order to continue to meet the state's required 55% share of K-12 public education spending.

Even so, Eileen King, the executive director of the Maine School Superintendents Association, says budgets for many school districts will likely be very tight.

King specifically noted that districts will soon have to comply with Maine's new Family and Medical Leave law. Contributions for the program are expected to begin at the beginning of 2025, and King estimates that it could cost school districts up to $13 million annually. King said districts are already preparing to designate funding for the program.

"They might have to come down to deciding what is going to have to leave the budget, in order to meet the letter of the law," King said.

At a public forum earlier this week, Portland Superintendent Ryan Scallon said that his district is expecting slightly more state funding this year, but still faces some serious budget challenges, such as rising salaries and health care costs, and the end of federal COVID relief funding, which provided more than $9 million during the current school year.

"[The state funding numbers are] good news relative to what was anticipated, but not great news, in terms of need, and future funding of the district on this," Scallon said.

The federal COVID relief funding helped to districts to pay for several kinds of programs in recent years, such as tutoring, summer learning and additional counselors and social workers.