Town Meeting not yet scheduled
TRENTON — If the Town Meeting isn’t held pretty soon so that voters can approve the school budget for the fiscal year that began July 1, then Trenton Elementary School could find itself in a financial bind, according to Marc Gousse, superintendent of the Mount Desert Island Regional School System.
By law, the school is operating under last year’s budget. The problem with that, Gousse said, is that the school has contract obligations and other expenses that the old budget will not fully cover.
“It’s important for people to know that, lacking a Town Meeting, we’re going to have to make some really tough decisions that will impact our students and our school,” Gousse said at the July 14 Trenton School Committee meeting. “It doesn’t have to be that way, and it shouldn’t be that way.”
He urged the Trenton Board of Selectmen to schedule a Town Meeting as soon as possible.
But Board of Selectmen Chairman Fred Ehrlenbach said at the League of Towns board meeting Tuesday, “There doesn’t seem to be any push from our residents to rush into a Town Meeting.”
He told the Islander that the Town Meeting would not be held until at least September. He said two public hearings must be held prior to the Town Meeting and those have not yet been scheduled.
Gousse acknowledged that MDI-area towns cannot use their local school buildings for Town Meetings this year as they usually do. But he noted that Bar Harbor recently held a drive-in Town Meeting in the parking lot at MDI High School and that Mount Desert plans to do so Aug. 11.
“I see no reason why we can’t work collaboratively [with the selectmen] and do that in Trenton,” he said. “It does not have to be at MDI High School. It can be in the parking lot [at Trenton Elementary].
But Ehrlenbach said, “People would like to be able to participate in the normal fashion, not in a parking lot. It stifles public comment.”
The budget for the current fiscal year that the School Committee has approved totals $4.26 million, which is an increase of 5.97 percent over last year’s budget. Much of the budget increase is due to higher special education costs.
If approved by voters at Town Meeting, the school budget would raise property taxes by $85.75 per $100,000 of valuation.
“If we continue to not have a budget or we have a budget that does not support the needs of our students academically, we’re going to have to make some further (spending cuts),” Gousse told the School Committee. “The first things that are going to have to go are activities such as athletics, music and art.”
Trenton Elementary Principal Mike Zboray said he hopes the after-school program will not have to be cut, and committee member Gary Burr agreed.
“A lot of community members really use the after-school program, and I think it’s valuable, especially since more people are going back to work now,” Burr said.