Residents of Southwest Harbor vote by show of hands at the annual town meeting on Monday evening. PHOTO BY EARL BRECHLIN

School budget escapes cut attempts

SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Despite repeated attempts by members of the Warrant Committee to cut funding articles concerning the Pemetic Elementary School from the floor of the open town meeting Monday, the $3.46 million school budget passed unscathed with the overwhelming support of the nearly 80 voters in attendance.

Warrant Committee members recommended that $88,400 be removed from the budget, which is $141,200 more than approved for this school year. In an effort to accomplish that goal, they attempted to amend seven different warrant articles to their recommended levels. Each time, their motions to amend with lower amounts failed, including a motion to amend an article authorizing the total school budget. That proposed cut was turned down 8-53 in a show-of-hands vote.

In making a case for the Warrant Committee’s recommendations, Chairman Nancy Weingarten said they were essentially flat-funding the school budget at this year’s level. The Warrant Committee “represents all people in this town, not just the students,” she said.

“We’re concerned about the escalation that never seems to stop,” she explained.

Among the cuts proposed by the committee was $23,500 from the budget line for special education.

“There are some concerns the town is a magnet for [special needs students],” Weingarten said.

Earlier in the meeting, School Committee member Eric Henry pointed out that there are a number of items in the budget over which school officials have no control. Teacher contracts set salary levels, health insurance costs are determined by the insurance company, and the school building must be maintained, he noted. Special education is another budget line where school officials have little control due to state and federal mandates.

“We’re required to take care of every student that comes in that door,” Henry said.

Howard Colter, superintendent of the Mount Desert Island school system, acknowledged that special education costs have been growing. There are increased needs, he said, including the need for psychological services.

“Some of these are needs we haven’t had in the past,” Colter said.

The total school budget won approval in a 59-4 hand-count vote.

Voters also were considering a $3.17 million municipal budget. By the time the meeting ended, an extra $8,800 had been added. As proposed, the budget reflected a $3,300 decrease from this year.

The municipal budget would have been even higher if the Warrant Committee had been able to sway voters into adding $20,000 to a capital improvement plan for what Weingarten said was a study to develop a plan for the harbor. Her motion to amend the article failed after selectmen pointed out there was no guarantee the money would be earmarked for the study and explained that the board is working on a plan for the harbor.

Ingrid Wilbur Kachmar, executive director of Harbor House and a resident, was successful in her attempt to amend an article containing funds for the community service agency. Selectmen were recommending that Harbor House be funded at this year’s level, $56,340. Wilbur Kachmar said the agency requested an additional $3,300 to pay for additional staffing at its youth center. Her motion to amend carried, and voters went on to approve $59,640 for the agency.

Four warrant articles asked voters to take money out of certain reserve accounts. Town officials argued the $8,800 total was not needed in the accounts and the money could be put to use elsewhere. The problem, however, was where the money would go.

Responding to questions from voters, Town Manager Don Lagrange acknowledged that the articles as written did not specify what would happen to the money taken out of the accounts. As a result, voters amended the four articles to reflect that no money was being taken from the accounts, steps that added the $8,800 to the budget.

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Mark Good

Mark Good

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Mark Good

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