TRENTON — The Trenton School Committee met online this week and largely discussed the 2022 budget, plans to incorporate solar energy and plans to respond to the School Evaluations Options Committee (SEOC) report.
The SEOC is comprised of Trenton community members who are concerned at the rising school costs, which are in turn raising property taxes. The group worked to compile research and develop cost-saving options for the school to consider, as previously reported in The American and the Mount Desert Islander.
“Some of the information needs to be put in context, there’s also some recommendations that need to be considered,” said AOS 91 Superintendent Marc Gousse.
Gousse emphasized the importance in coming up with a plan to move forward, as well as letting “the community know that we are always open to feedback, always open to looking within.”
The School Committee decided to begin drafting a response to be ready by March at the latest when the school’s budget needs to be finalized.
The meeting also focused on preliminary budget numbers for 2022, which showed a significant carry–forward of an unaudited $561,858. Most of the budget savings were COVID-19-related, committee Chairwoman Jennifer Bonilla explained.
“We’re seeing these savings because it was not in our control,” she said, adding that, “this carry–forward might not happen again next year because our kids are in school.”
Gousse noted that the discrepancy, although it showed savings, may still raise concern from taxpayers.
“Let’s make sure that whatever we do with resources, we work collaboratively to make sure that the impact to our communities is as leveled as possible. I can’t emphasize that enough,” he said.
Trenton Elementary School Principal Michael Zboray explained that the school saw $22,000 in special education tuition savings, largely due to fees not incurred when KidsPeace in Ellsworth began offering services remotely and did not perform all budgeted services. He explained that $39,000 in savings were from educational technician costs that were not used when the school was closed, as well as $10,000 in heating costs that were not needed when the building was closed.
Tuition savings of $162,000 made up the bulk of the savings in the budget. While Zboray noted he will look more deeply into the numbers, he reported that, “We lost a lot of students…who after the springtime moved.”
Approximately 20 students left the school, he said, adding that “there was a large group that moved out to different towns due to financial strain because of COVID. It was the largest number I’ve seen since being here.”
When talking about plans to incorporate solar energy into the school, Bonilla read a letter from Trenton resident Michael Gilmartin.
“I do want to stress the money being lost on electricity along with the increase in the cost of the roof repair is mounting every year we fail to act…this is not just about being green, it’s also about financial responsibility to the citizens of Trenton,” the letter stated.
Gousse voiced his support for Gilmartin’s concerns, stating that it is up to the committee to figure out how best to proceed.
“I cannot emphasize enough our commitment to eco-friendly systems and alternative energy,” he said, citing the solar project at Mount Desert Island High School.
Gousse recommended that the committee budget accordingly and make the project a capital expenditure.
“I think it’s fair to say there’s more competition out there,” Gousse said regarding obtaining bids for a solar project.