Schools weigh budget increases



MOUNT DESERT ISLAND — School budgets for the coming fiscal year for local elementary schools are beginning to take shape. Administrators and school boards are anticipating increases of 5-11 percent from the current year.

A social worker position to serve all schools in the Mount Desert Island Regional School System has been proposed as a shared cost among the schools. Each school will be billed for the numbers of hours the social worker is at the school working with students, but each elementary school budget has a place holder of $22,500 for it.

In Bar Harbor, school board members voted unanimously in December to propose a $6.8 million budget to operate Bar Harbor schools in fiscal year 2021.

If approved by voters in June 2020, $5.9 million of the proposed budget would come from tax revenue. That figure is up 5.44 percent from the amount funded by taxpayers last year.

The remaining money would from state subsidies, tuition from out-of-town students and carryover from last year’s budget.

Included in the proposed budget is the funding of a Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) Coach, a new position started in September 2019 that Principal Barb Neilly said she would like to see funded for another year.

The CPS Coach, Neilly explained to school board members, is a position designed to support teachers in working with students with behavioral issues, and simultaneously work with students on identifying “unsolved problems” and developing behavioral plans (see related story, Page 1).

Before the CPS Coach position, this work fell to school administrators and guidance counselors, Neilly said.

The current CPS Coach, former teacher Patty Galeaz, also works with middle school students on bullying prevention, and worked with a guidance councilor on co-leading a friendship group, according to Neilly.

School board chair Kristi Losquadro commented that funding the Bar Harbor school department’s own behavioral specialist will likely decrease the school’s need for the proposed shared social worker.

Budget increases include pre-negotiated incremental salary increases, increased health insurance costs, safety care training for special education staff, a higher building insurance rate, an electricity rate increase, and a budgeted $75,000 for concept drawings of the upcoming school renovation project.

Following approval by the school board, the proposed budget will be reviewed by the Warrant Committee and the Town Council, who may revise the budget before it goes before voters in June.

Southwest Harbor

Meeting students’ needs through early childhood education, alternative education programs and individual learning support are all reasons the proposed budget for Pemetic Elementary School is increasing for the next fiscal year.

Replacing the aging windows in both stairwells of the school is another substantial expense, at $60,000, in the proposed FY21 budget that was presented to the Southwest Harbor School Committee on Dec. 11.

On Jan. 15 that committee is scheduled to meet to discuss which items will make the cut for final draft of the budget. Current additional items, including the start-up cost of $75,450 for a half-day pre-kindergarten program, show the proposed budget of $4.3 million with an 11.5 percent increase from the current school year.

“This is a starting point,” said Pemetic Elementary School Principal Rhonda Fortin from her office just before the holiday break. “Our highest priority is the pre-K.”

That program has been proposed as a joint program for four-year-olds in the Tremont and Southwest Harbor communities. A full-time teacher and Ed Tech are part of the start up costs. Each community’s pre-kindergarten students would attend a half-day program, one town in the morning and the other in the afternoon.

An additional Ed Tech is needed for the 2020-21 school year and is being proposed at $46,450, taking into account the most expensive health care package. There are currently 13.2 Ed Techs at the school; one is at the school for 20 percent of the school day.

Other additional expenses in this year’s budget include an increase in part-time teacher time for a new support program called PACE, which stands for Positive Attitude, Choice and Engagement. This program is geared toward supporting students who struggle in school socially and emotionally.

A $2,500 stipend is being proposed for a second dean of students in the school. This is a position meant to support Fortin and is an additional responsibility for someone in the school who already works full-time. There is already a dean of students who oversees the school when Fortin is absent for meetings or other obligations. A second one insures the school is covered in incidents of emergency training drills and investigating student incidents, according to Fortin.

Tremont

Pre-kindergarten, a social worker for the school system and possible paving projects are the big-ticket items for the proposed FY21 budget for the Tremont Consolidated School. It could be as much as an eight percent increase from last year’s budget.

“This is 100 percent a draft right now,” said Tremont Principal Jandrea True of the proposed $3.4 million budget. “Pre-K has already been voted on by the board.”

At its December meeting, the Tremont School Committee approved moving forward with the proposed pre-kindergarten program designed to serve four-year-old students from Southwest Harbor and Tremont. In January, the school committee will review the rest of the budget items for approval.

Part of Tremont’s start up costs for the pre-kindergarten program that total $79,000, include one full-time teaching position and one full-time Ed Tech, as well as an additional cost to bus students to Southwest Harbor. Pemetic Elementary School has a classroom available for the program and the Tremont school does not.

As for the shared social worker position, there is a $22,500 placeholder in the Tremont budget that True and School Committee Chair Heidi Lawson have said they will ask to keep whether the new position is approved or not.

“We are not alone in seeing increased needs for students,” said True in a meeting at the school prior to the holiday break. “I’m really grateful to the board and Marc (Superitendent Gousse) for putting this out there because there is a definitive need for it.”

There is a speech therapist at Tremont Consolidated School three days a week at this time. Next year’s budget includes the cost of adding another day because of the increased need for the therapist at the school.

Other items in the proposed budget include paving, which could address three different areas around the school. The most pressing, according to True, is the front parking lot of the school.

“The greatest need right now is the front parking lot because that’s the parking lot that gets the most use,” she said. “However it’s also the most expensive and also, ideally, would be re-designed because students have to walk right across the traffic flow and bus area.”

School committee members have requested a school study be done to assess how to expand the Tremont school. According to Lawson, approval for that needs to come from the school system’s central office.

“Our board is trying to anticipate and predict where our school will be at in five or ten years,” said True, “and trying to be wise about how we strategically plan for what could be an expansion to the building. Who knows right now.”

Other maintenance items will address problems with the connection between the original school building and the community room. The two buildings were connected around 1999. One item is ensuring the community room building can be heated during a power outage. The other focuses on the fire alarm and temperature monitor for equipment in the community room.

Sarah Hinckley also contributed to this article.

Becky Pritchard
Becky Pritchard covers the town of Bar Harbor, where she lives with her family and intrepid news-dog Joe-Joe. She worked six seasons as a park ranger in Acadia, and still enjoys spending her spare time there.

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