BAR HARBOR — On Monday, Superintendent Marc Gousse recommended the proposed prekindergarten programs in three of the district’s elementary schools be put on temporary hold due to uncertainty surrounding when these towns will hold their annual town meetings.
If annual town meetings in Southwest Harbor, Tremont and Mount Desert do not take place until after July 1, funding for the proposed programs would not be available, until voters can gather to approve the budgets for FY21.
Voters still must approve the prekindergarten programs in each town. Voters must also approve the proposed school budgets, which include the amounts to initiate those programs. In Mount Desert, a vote to approve the entire budget is also a vote to approve the prekindergarten program.
If town meetings in those towns take place after July 1, the start of the next fiscal year, things get complicated.
“Until we have budgets approved, we won’t know what our operating budgets are,” said AOS 91 Superintendent Marc Gousse last week in an interview with the Islander.
Emergency legislation enacted in mid-March allows municipalities to continue to fund their operations at the same budget levels approved for the previous year. Gousse understands the same applies for school budgets.
“If that happens, certainly we’re going to have to look at all of our programming and all of our resources,” he said. “We still, in this crisis, have to do business and move things forward.”
School officials in Southwest Harbor and Tremont have proposed a joint prekindergarten program that could serve up to 14, four-year-old students from each town for half-day instruction. In total, that program is slated to cost $154,000 with Tremont paying $78,650 and Southwest Harbor paying $75,450.
Tremont prekindergarten students would be bussed to Pemetic Elementary School, which is the reason for the higher cost to taxpayers in that town.
A proposed prekindergarten program in Mount Desert is estimated to cost $180,532, which includes $34,200 in start-up costs. That program could serve up to 16 students for full-day instruction.
A teacher and teacher’s aide are included in each proposed program’s cost, as well as furniture and materials.
While the district is advertising for open teaching positions, these are expected to be included in the lineup for next school year.
“We don’t want to make any assumptions, but we want to get out ahead to make sure we have the best possible candidates,” said Gousse, adding that all advertised positions come with the caveat ‘subject to budget approval.’
In a Southwest Harbor Select Board meeting that took place April 7 via Zoom, Town Manager Justin VanDongen asked selectmen their stance on figuring out a way to have a vote go before the town regarding approval of the school budget prior to town meeting, if necessary.
One option is to conduct a meeting virtually that would allow public comment through written questions submitted hours before the meeting, according to VanDongen.
“To not have public comment is a little bit concerning to me,” he said to the board, adding that discussion often dictates what questions come up. “But, it is allowable with the state statute that is set.”
“It’s really important to have public discussion,” said Selectman Kristin Hutchins. “I don’t blame them for wanting certainty, we all do. They should be prepared to bear with us.”