Many moving parts shape school budgets

A substantial salary increase for teachers and the creation of a new fund to reimburse teachers for higher health insurance deductibles will help shape the 2019-2020 budgets that all of the schools in the Mount Desert Island Regional School System (MDIRSS) are in the process of developing.

The collective bargaining agreement that the teachers and the system’s school board finalized in August calls for a 3.56 raise for teachers in the current year and a 6.81 percent raise next year. (Teachers in the three outer island schools are not covered by the collective bargaining agreement.)

The salary for a first-year teacher with only a bachelor’s degree increased from $36,236 last year to $38,500 this year, and it will go to $41,000 next year.

Also next year, teachers on MDI and in Trenton will be switched to the Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield Standard 100 Plan for health insurance. The premiums for that plan are less than for the current Anthem plan, but the deductible for individual coverage will increase from $200 to $1,000. However, teachers will not actually pay a higher deductible. That’s because the schools will fund a health reimbursement account (HRA) to cover up to $800 of the deductible for teachers with employee-only coverage and up to $1,600 a year for those with plans that cover other family members.

“Ultimately we will realize savings [by switching to an insurance plan with a higher deductible], but this first year we will need to fund that health reimbursement account at 100 percent to make sure we’re covered,” Superintendent Marc Gousse said.

The budgetary effects of the teachers’ salary increase and the HRA funding will be greater for some schools than for others because there are a number of variables. For example, smaller schools generally have fewer teachers in relation to their overall budgets.

If a school needs to hire an additional teacher, that will bump the budget up. But if a teacher with 20 years of experience and a master’s degree leaves the school and is replaced by a novice teacher with only a bachelor’s degree, then the school will be spending less on that position.

Non-personnel expenses also vary from school to school and fluctuate from year to year within each school. And the amount of money a school is able to carry over from one year to the next also affects the amount of new tax money that’s needed.

As always at this time of year, a significant unknown is the size of the increase in health insurance premiums. All of the schools are budgeting for a 10 percent increase, while hoping it is much lower. Anthem Blue Cross typically announces the actual size of the increase in March.

Given all of the moving parts, the principals have come up with their best estimate of the amount of money they will need for 2019-2020. Now, the school committees in each of the MDIRSS towns are starting to review those draft budgets. Within the next six weeks or so they are scheduled to adopt the budgets, which will then go to voters for approval at town meetings in the spring.

Trenton Elementary School Principal Mike Zboray will be presenting his draft budget to the school committee Jan. 8. MDI High School Principal Matt Haney plans to present his budget to that school’s board Jan. 14. The Islander will report on the budgets for those schools and Tremont Consolidated School over the next few weeks.

Following is a quick look at the draft budgets for the elementary schools in Bar Harbor, Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor.

Conners Emerson (Bar Harbor)

The $6.5 million budget presented by Principal Barb Neilly to the school committee earlier this month is 4.82 percent higher than the current year’s budget.

One of the largest increases for facilities operation and maintenance, which is up $61,591, 10.46 percent, to $650,153. Nearly $29,000 of that increase is in salaries and benefits. Neilly also noted that maintaining the old buildings is expensive.

Her draft budget of $2.78 million for “regular instruction” is 7.08 percent higher than in the current budget. But the $1.33 million budget for special education is down 1.17 percent.

The cost of benefits is going up 14.71 for teachers and 9.39 percent for ed techs.

Mount Desert

The $4.44 million budget that Principal Gloria Delsandro has presented to the school committee is 2.42 percent higher than the current year’s budget.

In addition to that hold-the-line budget, she has asked the committee to consider $30,470 in new spending. That includes $24,970 to convert a one-year teaching position to a special education coordinator position. The salary and benefits for that job would total about $76,600.

Delsandro said that with the departure of two teachers at the end of the 2017-2018 school year, the decision was made to hire a new teacher for a permanent position and to create a one-year position “to meet the current needs of our student population.”

Delsandro said students with special needs account for nearly one-third of the school’s enrollment of 169. In addition to students with intellectual and development disabilities, there are those physical impairments and speech and language difficulties. Four students are deaf or hearing impaired.

“Teachers and students are learning sign language, and I think it has enriched the culture of our school,” Delsandro told the school committee Dec.5. “But that’s not to say it’s not a lot of work and a big adjustment.”

She said having a full-time special education coordinator would better meet students’ needs while allowing teachers to have a more “reasonable” workload and help “streamline special education services and look for efficiencies.”

Pemetic (Southwest Harbor)

Principal Rhonda Fortin’s draft budget of $3.84 million represents an increase of 3.87 percent over the current year’s budget.

New spending items include a full-time math specialist, upgrades to stairwell windows, the installation of energy-efficient LED lights, a convection oven and salad bar insert for food service, two new water fountains and outside surveillance cameras.

To achieve a full-time math specialist position, Fortin wants to add only 20 percent of a position. The school currently has a 60 percent math specialist position and a 20 percent seventh grade math teacher. Combining those positions and increasing the work load by 20 percent to incorporate more specialty work with students would make it a full-time position with a salary of $35,000.

“It has been a consistent struggle to find someone who will come in for one period a day,” Fortin said.

She told the school committee she is looking to expand the video surveillance coverage on the outside of the building by adding cameras at a cost of $2,400. The surveillance system is “passive viewing,” which means it is recording activity but no one is assigned to monitor it.


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