BAR HARBOR — A budget increase of 16.2 percent for the Mount Desert Island Regional School System (MDIRSS) superintendent’s office and system-wide services was unanimously approved by the MDIRSS board Dec. 17.
The $1.86 million budget for next year exceeds the current year’s budget by $259,285.
The additional expenses include $41,820 for each of two new half-time positions. One of those is an instructional coach for teachers.
“One of the most effective ways to provide professional development is to have it followed up by coaching in the classroom,” said Julie Meltzer, the school system’s director of curriculum, assessment and instruction.
She said the instructional coach would not be providing support just for weak teachers.
“We know that elite athletes have coaches to get them to a higher level of performance,” she said. “We’re asking teachers to do more than ever before, and we’re asking them to up their skills in many different ways.”
Over the past couple of years, Meltzer said, she has used grant money for coaches to help teachers in areas including writing and math.
“Teachers have really engaged with it and have been asking for additional coaching,” she said. “But we don’t have the grant funds to provide the amount of coaching that’s needed to really put standards-based education into place.”
Meltzer said the transition to standards-based education presents significant challenges.
“It’s something we really think is going to be great for kids, but it requires teachers to do some things that, in some cases, they haven’t done before. Providing [coaching] is smart for the district because it makes sure people get the support they deserve and need.”
The other new half-time position that the MDIRSS board approved will help coordinate the system’s “response to intervention” (RTI) and assessment functions.
RTI is an approach to identifying and supporting students with learning difficulties. Various types of interventions are used to help students who are falling behind.
The assessment part of the job involves developing achievement standards and following up to see if students are meeting them. Meltzer said the school system previously had a half-time assessment coordinator, but that position was merged into hers when she was hired in 2013.
“Since then, we have expanded both testing and tracking because of the transition to standards-based education and proficiency-based diplomas,” she said. “A tremendous amount more is required in terms of organizing all of that and also organizing the new state assessment and dealing with all of the data reports that the state and federal governments ask us to do.”
Meltzer said interventions to help struggling students must be accompanied by assessments of the students’ progress.
“It’s silly to do interventions without knowing whether they’re having the desired effect,” she said.
Other budget increases in Meltzer’s areas of responsibility include about $15,000 to expand the hours of members of the school system’s information technology staff.
Next year’s school system budget also includes $60,000 for a new contract position. A licensed school psychologist will be engaged to work with students with mental health disabilities.
“As our needs have increased for assessment and programming support, the time and resources of our current employee have been stretched,” said Kelley Sanborn, director of special services. “This contracted position will allow our schools to have timely access to psychological assessments, risk assessments and consultation with a consistent provider.”
She said that in addition to benefitting students, the teachers who work with them will benefit from the “support and skill-building consultation” the psychologist can provide.
Much of the overall increase in the central office budget, aside from the new positions, is for current employee’ salaries and benefits.
The biggest salary hike, from $124,236 to $135,000, is for the superintendent. Howard Colter is leaving that job at the end of this school year, and the school board felt a higher salary was needed to attract the best candidates to succeed him.
Next year’s larger budget means that all of the MDIRSS towns will see significant increases in their assessments. Bar Harbor’s assessment will go up $42,888, or 14.3 percent. Mount Desert’s will increase $31,846, 19.5 percent. Southwest Harbor will pay 23,052 more, 16.9 percent. Tremont’s assessment will rise $18,534, 15.8 percent.
In addition, MDI High School, which is funded largely by the four MDI towns, will see an assessment increase of $62,187, which comes to 16.2 percent.
Trenton will pay an additional $20,666, 14.5 percent. Swans Island will see a $9,549 hike in its assessment, 19.7 percent. Cranberry Isles will pay $6,110 more, 25.1 percent. Frenchboro’s bill will go up $809, 6 percent.
Registered voters in the eight MDIRSS towns will have an opportunity to vote on next year’s budget prior to the school board’s regular meeting Jan. 25 at MDI High School.