TRENTON — Trenton Elementary School has received $116,932 from a Maine Department of Education “hardship” fund to help the school through its current budget crisis.
And on Tuesday, the school committee voted to borrow $75,000 from a special education reserve fund that was created in 2012 to help schools in the Mount Desert Island Regional School System pay for the out-of-district placement of students with special education needs.
Trenton Elementary has been facing a huge budget increase for next year, largely because of insufficient carryover funds from previous years and unanticipated special education costs.
Last month, the school committee adopted a $3.97 million budget, which would have required Trenton property owners to pay 15.13 percent more in taxes. That amounts to $147.70 in additional taxes on every $100,000 of property valuation. The biggest single factor in the budget increase is a 42.39 percent hike in special education funding.
With the infusion of $116,932 from the state and the $75,000 loan from the special education reserve fund, the school committee on Tuesday revised its budget for next year. The new budget, which will be voted on at the May 21 town meeting, calls for a tax increase of 8.63 percent, or $84.28 per $100,000 of property valuation.
Superintendent Marc Gousse told the school committee that he received an email a few weeks ago from Tyler Backus, the Department of Education’s school finance coordinator.
“He said, ‘I read about the hardship in Trenton … where you have some unanticipated special education costs. You may be eligible for some state money.’”
Gousse said he looked into the eligibility requirements for the hardship funding and applied. He received a letter April 2 notifying him that the application had been approved.
As for borrowing from the school district’s special education reserve fund, Gousse said he had spoken over the past few weeks with several people who had been instrumental in creating it.
“If there ever was a situation designed for use of the special ed reserve fund, this is it,” he said. “It’s the perfect scenario for use of this fund, period. Those aren’t my words; they’re the words of the people who set it up.”
This is the first time that a school will have borrowed from the district-wide special education reserve fund, which by the end of this fiscal year will have a balance of about $660,000.
Twenty percent of the amount of the loan must be paid back with interest each year until it is paid off. Gousse said the interest rate is likely to be two or three percent. It will be tied to the rate of interest the reserve fund earns in the coming year. The first loan payment will not be due until November 2021.
School committee Chairman Jennifer Bonilla said of borrowing from the special education reserve fund, “We need it; we need the help.”