BAR HARBOR — A $10.54 million budget for Mount Desert Island High School next year was approved by the high school board Feb. 15.
The budget is $422,488 higher than the budget for the current year, an increase of 4.18 percent.
Registered voters in the four MDI towns, which operate the high school, will have the final say on the budget at a meeting at the high school April 5.
Principal Matt Haney’s basic, hold-the-line budget called for increasing spending by 1.66 percent. But he added a wish list of items that he said were not absolutely essential but very much needed.
The board accepted all of those add-ons, which included a special education coordinator and an adult education teacher, each at a cost of $70,826; increasing the social worker position from 30 percent to full time at a cost of $61,534; buying a replacement pickup truck for $20,000 and replacing the theater’s light control board that’s on its last legs for $25,000.
Haney said the special education coordinator position was particularly important.
“It is immensely needed to allow the special ed teachers and the administrative team to more effectively do everything that we do,” he said.
A school board member had suggested at last month’s meeting that the adult education teacher position might be part-time, at least for the first year, which would save about $35,000. Haney said he had discussed that idea with Adult Education Director Anne Patterson and concluded it wasn’t a good option.
“Nobody wants to do something part time,” he said, adding that a part-time teacher would only partially address the need.
“And even if it was to be phased in to full time, that would kind of lock (Patterson) in to the part-time pool [of teachers], which is probably not going to be very good.”
If approved by voters, the high school budget will increase property taxes in Bar Harbor by about $9.55 per $100,000 of valuation, by $8.66 in Southwest Harbor, by $7.34 in Tremont and by 62 cents in Mount Desert.
The formula that is used to calculate the four towns’ assessments for the high school gives twice as much weight to each town’s total property valuation as to the number of students from each town who are enrolled at the high school.
The projected town assessments for next year total $8.26 million. The high school expects to receive another $1.45 million in tuition payments from off-island towns that have students at MDI High School. Students in towns including Trenton, Hancock, Lamoine and the outer islands pay tuition of $11,584 per student.
Haney said he expects 125 students – 23 percent of total enrollment – to be tuition students next year.
About $3.9 million of next year’s budget is earmarked for “regular instruction,” $1.2 million for special education; $1.1 million for student and staff support including guidance, health services, instructional improvement and technology; $1.46 million for physical plant operations and maintenance; and $632,304 for athletics and other co-curricular programs. Debt service will total $413,765.
Heidi Lawson was the only member of the high school board who voted not to approve the budget. She said she was concerned about the size of the increase in spending, particularly for the social worker position, and cited the impact on taxpayers living on fixed incomes.
Board member Lilea Simis said she thought all of the items in the budget were important for maintaining high-quality instruction and services for students.
Board member Caroline Pryor said she voted for the budget “with reservations.”
She noted that high school enrollment has been “pretty flat” in recent years, but the budget continues to grow.
“We have talked over the years that that’s not sustainable,” Pryor said. “I want to speak up for the people … in the communities we serve who live in poverty, who are seniors and live on fixed incomes.
“I think we do a great job of educating our students. But I think we have issues to grapple with in terms of where our budget is headed.”
At the same time, Pryor said, she thinks school personnel should be paid commensurate with their value.
“We have some excellent teachers and staff members here. I would like to reward them with hard-earned salary raises and benefits.”
Salaries and benefits account for about 66 percent of the high school’s budget.
Pryor said board members and administrators need to “reimagine, recreate, reinvent, realign, reposition and think as creatively as possible” to keep costs in line.
School board Chairman Ingrid Kachmar said she agrees that continuing budget increases in an era of flat enrollment is unsustainable.
“But I think it’s very difficult to presume that a budget can stay flat when all costs around us are going up,” she said.