Mills signs significantly altered version of bill to increase MSSM funding

10 months ago

LIMESTONE, Maine — Gov. Janet Mills signed a bill that would have significantly increased funding at Maine’s only magnet high school, but with drastic cuts.

LD 1458 would have given an additional $1.9 million to the Maine School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone. The school had been flat-funded at $3.6 million since 2017. This prompted leaders to advocate for the Legislature to cover the $9,800 annual room and board costs for students and a 10-percent employee wage increase.

But the final version of that bill, which Mills signed Thursday, will not cover either of those proposals. Instead, the Legislature will allocate a one-time payment of $500,000 for fiscal year 2024-2025.

MSSM typically serves students who are looking for more academic challenges, especially in STEM subjects, said former executive director Sam Critchlow in May. But though Maine families don’t pay the full $34,300 annual tuition costs, the room and board fees often deter them from applying.

Critchlow had feared that without a budget increase, the school would either freeze teacher pay or cut positions.

But MSSM’s new director, Rob Constantine, said that the school will work with what the Legislature has given them to address future student and staff needs. School officials have not yet discussed what they might allocate the $500,000 toward.

“I think a lot of suggestions [in the original bill] focused on addressing the school’s flat funding,” said Constantine, who took over the school on July 1. “Now we’re focused on moving forward and identifying our priorities with this one-time allocation.”

Since MSSM only just learned of the Legislature’s amendments, Constantine and colleagues have not yet discussed how they might address teacher pay.

“I don’t think we necessarily need a 10-percent increase across the board, but there are ways we might increase salaries to be more competitive,” Constantine said.

He did not indicate MSSM’s current yearly teacher salaries. The original version of LD 1458, sponsored by Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, proposed allocating $485,375 total for employee wages in 2023-2024 and the following school year.

Unlike traditional public schools, MSSM does not receive its funds from the Department of Education’s subsidy formula, which factors in local tax valuation. Instead, the school receives all of its funds from the state’s General Purpose Aid budget, which allocates money toward specialty schools and programs.
Founded in 1994, MSSM is most known for being named the best high school in Maine and second best in the country by U.S. News & World Report in 2019.