School could tap special ed fund



TRENTON — The Trenton School Committee might reconsider its decision not to borrow from a fund that the Mount Desert Island Regional School System (MDIRSS) created to help individual schools that face “large expenditures … for certain out-of-district special education placements.”

Such a placement is part of the reason the Trenton Elementary School budget that the school committee adopted March 12 for next year is 11.96 percent higher than the current year’s budget. The new $3.97 million budget includes $748,817 for special education, an increase of 42.4 percent.

About $179,000 of that additional cost is for two children whose special education needs have required their placement in other schools. One child is at another MDIRSS school. The other is outside the district, at KidsPeace in Ellsworth.

Each MDIRSS school has its own special education reserve fund, which must be depleted before the school can borrow from the district-wide fund. Trenton Elementary is using $110,000 of the $113,000 in its reserve fund to help cover the two special education placements for the current budget year.

A school can borrow up to $75,000 a year from the district-wide fund. Twenty percent of the loan balance must be paid back with interest each year until it is paid off. The interest rate on the loan, which is intended to be modest, is based on the amount of interest the fund earned the previous year.

At the Trenton School Committee’s March 12 meeting, MDIRSS Superintendent Marc Gousse did not recommend borrowing from the district-wide fund, citing the requirement to pay back the loan with interest. But since then, Gousse said last Friday, he has more carefully studied the rules governing the fund and has spoken with some of the people who were involved in setting it up in 2012.

As a result, he said, “If there ever was a situation that this was designed for, I think this is it.

“It is an option that we certainly are going to discuss with the Trenton School Committee,” he continued. “We will just have to see at what level we would access the fund, if at all.”

The next scheduled meeting of the school committee is April 9.

If the school committee decides to borrow from the district-wide special education reserve fund for the coming school year, it won’t have to start repaying the loan until November 2020.

Rob Liebow, a former superintendent of the MDIRSS, proposed creating the district-wide fund in 2011.

“It’s basically catastrophic insurance, a way for our schools to pool their resources for the really rare, really high-cost placements that can be budget breakers,” he said at the time.

Liebow’s plan called for the eight towns in the school district to contribute to the fund, the amount to be based on each town’s share of the school system’s overall enrollment. Residents of all eight towns voted at their 2012 town meetings to participate.

The reserve fund started with a balance of $500,000; it will be $660,000 by the end of this fiscal year.

Members of the Trenton Board of Selectmen have expressed alarm that the budget the school committee adopted for next year would require a 15.13 percent increase in tax funding, and they have asked school officials to try to reduce that.

Voters at the May 21 town meeting will have the final say on the budget.

David Roza

David Roza

David grew up in Washington County, Maryland, has reported in Washington County, Oregon, and now covers news in Hancock County and Washington County, Maine for The American and Out & About.

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