SOUTHWEST HARBOR — With the additional items of a pre-K program, window replacements for each stairwell and a new fifth–grade teacher position, the proposed FY22 budget for Pemetic Elementary School is expected to increase by 3.64 percent.
If the increase remains at the current proposed total, it equates to a 1.16 percent increase in the town appropriation, which means a difference of $7.50 per $100,000 of property value. Although the school committee has reviewed the budget twice, it has yet to approve it and it still needs to go before the Board of Selectmen and Warrant Committee.
Last year, the FY21 school budget was nearing its final approval when the novel coronavirus shuttered the school and area businesses, and school officials decided not to initiate a pre-K program. This year, pre-K is back in the budget at $80,000, which is $4,500 more than was originally budgeted for the program. Those extra funds are in the budget to absorb any increase in staff salary and benefits for the two employees needed for the program.
As originally proposed, pre-K will serve 4-year–olds from both Southwest Harbor and Tremont for a half-day in the Pemetic Elementary School building. Students from Tremont will be bussed to Southwest Harbor.
Replacing the windows in each stairwell of the Pemetic building has been on the school’s to-do list for several years. Doing so was a recommendation that came from a report done of the school building by Sealander Architects a few years ago, according to principal Rhonda Fortin. This year, $65,000 is set to be taken from the maintenance reserve to make that upgrade.
Another additional item in the budget is $10,000 to do a study of what is needed for renovations to the entrance of the school building to make it ADA compliant, which was also a recommendation in the study.
In an attempt to support fifth–grade learning at the school, Fortin has requested hiring a teacher specific for that grade. Those students are currently in a middle school model of learning and have several teachers for different subjects.
“You don’t have dedicated adults to the dedicated group of kids; they’re kind of going all over,” Julie Meltzer, curriculum and assessment director for the district, explained to the Southwest Harbor School Committee during its January meeting. “It’s not a model that is a great match for fifth grade because it requires a lot of executive function if you’re going to all of those teachers.”
While members of the school board expressed concern that the new hire could be addressing a temporary problem because next year’s fifth grade class is one of the largest in the school, Meltzer and Fortin explained that the model would continue after that class and is necessary for the age group.
“Fifth graders are not socially ready to be part of the middle school,” Fortin said in an email to the Islander. “They need extra time to mature and to develop executive functioning skills.”
Every school in the district has increased its technology since the start of the pandemic. Fortin originally proposed adding a part-time technology coordinator to the FY22 budget to support the full-time technology integrator at Pemetic Elementary School. Instead of funding a half-time position in one school, the district came up with a collaborative solution.
“The coordinator position is new and will be paid for with ESSER grant money,” Fortin explained in an email. ESSER stands for Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief funds. “The coordinator will be at Pemetic two days a week, CES (Conners Emerson School) two days a week, and one day for other schools.”
Once the ESSER funds for this position are not available, the technology coordinator will be a position funded through the district’s central office with a shared cost from each school.
“Eventually we wanted to have tech support come out of central office benefitting all the buildings and a full-time tech integrator in every building,” said Meltzer. “So, we’re going to hire one person at the district office… Everybody in two years will have a full-time tech integrator and the equivalent of half-time support… It’s a much more effective use of the money and it gets some things out of local budgets and it shows how we can do some collaborative work together.”