School system budget could rise 9.8 percent

BAR HARBOR The proposed budget for the Mount Desert Regional School System’s central office includes $90,000 for a new director of operations position and $80,000 to continue through next year the system-wide coronavirus testing program for asymptomatic teachers and staff. 

If those and $17,010 in other proposed new costs are added to the budget, it will total $2.32 millionan increase of 9.78 percent over the budget for the current year. The amount that the eight towns that are part of the school system would be assessed would go up by 9.99 percent. 

The system-wide coronavirus testing program that is starting this month is being paid for with grants and private donations. That will carry the program through the end of the current school year.  

Superintendent Marc Gousse said he hopes the program will not need to be continued next year, but he wants to be prepared. 

“Why would we put $80,000 in the budget for testing if we believe we’re going to have a vaccine?” he asked at the Nov. 23 school system board meeting. “Well, I think the answer is, ‘Why do we purchase insurance?’ Nothing is guaranteed. 

“In the event that we have a vaccine and things are moving forward positively and we don’t have to expend that money, so be it. But at this point I think it would be prudent for us to invest in an asymptomatic testing program.” 

In the spring of 2019, a committee of the school board recommended hiring a director of operations to oversee and coordinate facilities maintenance and transportation services throughout the school system. The $90,000 for that position was initially part of Gousse’s budget request for the current year. But he told the school board last December that, although providing principals with “operations and logistical support” was still important, “It has now been superseded by the need, the demand for behavioral and social supports for our schools.” 

He recommended, and the school board agreed, that the $90,000 should be used to add a social worker position. 

But now, he said, it is time to hire someone to oversee facilities maintenance and transportation. Currently, the individual school principals must deal with everything from roof repairs to boiler replacements. 

“Our principals are amazing educational leaders, but I don’t think any of them has a boiler license,” he told the school board last December. “There is a whole host of things that just aren’t in their wheelhouse. They do a good job working to address those things, but that is not intended to be the primary focus of their positions.” 

Gousse told the Islander on Monday that the facilities-related responsibilities “diminish the principals’ ability to focus on educational leadership.” 

He also said that having an operations director can save the schools money in the long run.  

“We can negotiate contracts throughout all of our schools. It leverages purchasing power and greater efficiencies.” 

Another school board committee last year recommended that the school system hire a food service director, but Gousse did not include funding for that position in the current year’s budget. 

He said he would like to hire a full-time food service director next year, “But I am focusing on costs, and at this point that is too much to put in the budget.” 

Instead he is proposing to pay someone $10,000 stipend to begin to meet that need. 

“We believe a stipend of that size may attract a candidate who can help coordinate food service across all of our schools,” he said. “It’s a start.” 

The final item that Gousse recommends adding to the budget is $7,010 to extend the summertime hours for Jill Cohen, the school system’s data assessment coordinator. 

The proposed budget that Gousse presented to the school board last week includes a total of $54,794 for salary increases for central office personnel. But he described that as a “placeholder” pending the outcome of contract negotiations between the school board and the teachers associations. 

The school board is not obligated to grant central office personnel the same size raise that teachers receive, but Gousse indicated the increases should be consistent. 

“Not that (the board) will go by this, but I think the benchmark that most people are looking at right now is COLA (cost of living adjustment), and I think COLA is projected at 1.3 percent,” Gousse said. 

If none of the proposed new spending items, aside from salary increases, are included in the final budget for next year, the budget will increase by less than 1 percent to just under $2.14 million. 

The school board is to consider the budget at its Dec. 14 meeting. 

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]
Dick Broom

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