SOUTHWEST HARBOR — School officials last week presented a proposed $3.5 million budget for the Pemetic Elementary School to selectmen and the Warrant Committee.
As presented Feb. 11, the budget for the 2016-2017 school year is $176,222, or 5.3 percent, higher than for this year.
School Superintendent Howard Colter pointed out the major increases are in the budgets for regular instruction and special education.
The proposed $1.12 million budget for regular instruction is a $57,000 increase. Most of that is due to increases in salaries and the costs of health insurance, Colter said.
The average increase in teacher’s salaries across the school system is 2.75 percent, Colter said. Hourly employees, including ed techs, have been budgeted for a 90-cent-per-hour increase.
Health insurance costs are another unknown in the budget at this time. School officials are using a 10 percent increase for now, an amount that will be adjusted when the actual figures come in from the insurer.
The proposed $781,700 budget for special education is a $123,000 increase. Here, too, salaries and insurance are contributors. However, more than half of the increase, nearly $66,600, is in the salary line for ed techs.
“We have a large percentage of children here enrolled in special ed,” Colter said.
The budget calls for 10 full-time ed techs and one half-time. There are eight ed techs in special ed this year, according to school officials.
Colter estimated that there are 30 special ed students attending the school. Enrollment this year is 144 students.
School officials responded to concerns about increases in the budget, explaining that many of these costs are out of their control.
A school, by state law, is obligated to provide special services for students who need them. These services can be very expensive. Some students need a full-time ed tech to accompany them during the school day; in extreme cases, a student might need to attend another school that addresses their circumstances. In any case, the school, and therefore the taxpayers, foots the bill. The state, in handing down this mandate, agreed to pay the cost but, as school officials are quick to note, has not followed through on their promise.
“in many respects, our hands are tied,” said school committee member Eric Henry.
Teacher’s salaries are subject to union negotiations and also beyond control of school officials as well as the cost of providing health insurance, school officials said.
Employees pay a portion of their health insurance cost. Beginning with this school year, employees assumed a greater share of that cost, Colter said.
Voters will consider the Pemetic budget at their annual town meeting in May.