ROCKLAND, Maine — The Rockland-area school district has received significantly less state aid in recent years because of declining student enrollments. A new program, however, has halted that slide.
Superintendent John McDonald credited the introduction during the current school year of a prekindergarten program as the reason Regional School Unit 13 will receive more state education aid in the upcoming school year.
The administration said in addition to the financial benefit, the program is expected to yield improved educational outcomes for students.
Enrollment is a major factor in the amount of state aid a district receives in Maine.
The enrollment in the prekindergarten program this year is 48, the superintendent told board members at a Thursday night meeting in which he submitted the preliminary RSU 13 budget for 2016-2017. The district is projected to receive an additional $300,000 in state aid next year due to the additional 48 students, he said.
The program is being funded through a five-year federal grant that will pay RSU 13 about $200,000 per year, which covers the expenses of the program.
Board member Donald Robishaw Jr. cautioned the board that at some point, the district will be responsible for the full cost of the program.
The superintendent pointed out that the prekindergarten program not only will provide a short-term benefit to the district, but a longer-term one also.
“This is a good way to attract young families to the community,” McDonald said.
Other board members pointed out that if the program works as intended, fewer students will fail and they instead will stay in school, which will keep the district’s enrollments higher. Board Chairman Steve Roberts said that if a student can read at their appropriate grade level by third grade, they are far more likely to succeed throughout school.
“If we want to succeed, we need to focus on education. You never get greater efficiency by cutting. We will get better efficiencies through education,” the chairman said.
The district’s enrollment, even with the additional 48 students, however, continued to fall. Enrollment slipped to 1,723 in October 2015. The district lost some students with the withdrawal of St. George last year. In 2014-2015, the RSU 13 enrollment was 1,927.
McDonald said that the most recent projection for enrollment, prior to the addition of the prekindergarten program, was for an additional decline of 100 students over the next five years.