TRENTON — School officials have whittled downs next year’s proposed budget for Trenton Elementary School to $3.35 million, which is about 8 percent higher than the budget for the current year.
Because of several factors, including a projected 34 percent reduction in carryover funds from this year to next, the budget would boost the local tax assessment by 12.3 percent. That would increase the tax bill on each $100,000 of property valuation by about $130.
The proposed budget includes $1.27 million for regular instruction and $906,296 for special education. That is an increase of $167,815, or 22.2 percent, over the special education budget for the current year.
About $78,000 of that increase would cover the salary and benefits for a third special education teacher.
Principal Mike Zboray said Trenton Elementary has had three special education teachers in the past and now needs that many again.
The school expects to have at least two new special needs students next year, which also would require increasing the number of educational technician, or ed tech, positions in special education to seven and a half at a cost of about $48,000.
Trenton Elementary expects to receive a state subsidy of about $350,000 for special education next year. Superintendent Marc Gousse told the school board last Tuesday that he would ask the Maine Department of Education if any additional money might be available to help offset the higher special education costs.
The tuition that Trenton pays for students to attend high school is expected to total $876,860 next year, with another $115,912 for Trenton high school students needing special education services.
Zboray had initially included $65,000 in the next year’s budget to repair part of the school’s roof and to shore it up to accommodate solar panels. He told the school committee last week that just replacing the section of the roof above the library, which is in the worst condition, would cost about $45,000.
“The roofing material is old and brittle,” he said.
Pointing out stains on a few of the ceiling tiles in the library, Zboray said, “You can see that there has been a leak there. It’s because of a valley [where sections of the roof come together]. Water was backing up and some nails had come out.”
He said the school’s custodian had solved the problem temporarily and that no other leaks have been discovered.
“But the roof is crumbly. Can we get away with waiting another year? Probably.”
The school committee agreed to take money for the roof out of next year’s budget.
Gousse said he and Zboray are looking for ways to further cut costs.
“We continue to sharpen our pencils,” he said. But even with the proposed increases, he described the budget as “bare bones.”
Board member Tom Reeve agreed, saying, “I’ve gone through this, and there’s nothing to cut. And none of the increases are outlandish.”
He noted that Trenton has the lowest per-pupil cost of any elementary school in the Mount Desert Island Regional School System. Still, he said he worries about having to ask the town for large increases in funding year after year.
Gousse agreed, saying that is “unsustainable.”
The school board is to review and vote on the final version of the proposed budget Feb. 11.
Gousse recommended that the school board hold at least two public information sessions on the budget prior to town meeting in May.
“I believe it’s very important that we get out in front of this, to do some community education and walk [citizens] through the budget and not wait to be defensive at town meeting,” he said.
School board chair Jennifer Bonilla agreed.
“We did that last year, and a lot of people came and really appreciated having information before they had to go in and vote,” she said.