Committees agree to support Pre-K program

TREMONT — In their first meetings following a proposal for a joint pre-K program that would serve four-year-olds from both Tremont and Southwest Harbor, both school committees voted to include the program in their preliminary budgets for the coming year.

Tremont School Committee members met on Tuesday and voted 3-0-1, with member Jennifer Horner abstaining, to add $79,000 as a placeholder in the budget as an additional item.

When Tremont Consolidated School principal Jandrea True and Pemetic Elementary principal Rhonda Fortin proposed the program as a half-day program for each town’s four-year-olds, the cost was slightly higher for Tremont due to transportation.

There is not room for the program to be at the Tremont school, so pre-K students would be bussed to Southwest Harbor where there is an available classroom.

During their Nov. 13 meeting, Southwest Harbor School Committee members agreed to support the proposed pre-K program in concept and include the $73,000 in the preliminary budget for FY21.

Although the committee did not spend a lot of time discussing the proposed program, there was concern about what would happen if one town approved the program at town meeting and the other did not.

“We have the space in our building,” said John Bench, who chairs the Southwest Harbor committee. “They don’t have the space at all.”

Logistics still need to be worked out for the program in which Tremont students would attend for the morning half of the day and Southwest Harbor students for the afternoon. But if one town chose not to add the program, the full cost would fall on the other.

In Mount Desert, where a full-day program is being proposed, a pre-K program is estimated to cost $180,000, with $34,000 of that being start up costs.

Members of the Tremont School Committee had some concerns.

“I don’t think this is the solution for us,” said member Jessica Bass. “I don’t think it’s going to be well attended.” She later voted in favor of adding the placeholder to the budget.

Horner said the program could take jobs away from private preschool and daycare programs.

Chair Heidi Lawson pointed out that the program would reach out to kids whose parents can’t afford a private preschool program.

Superintendent Marc Gousse also emphasized the savings on special education down the road. Earlier in the meeting, committee members approved an additional $30,000 for special education for the current year because of an increase in needs at the school.

“This is a starting point,” True said to the group about the proposed pre-K program.

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.

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