Letter to Editor: Is new staff really needed?

To the Editor:

In a recent Mount Desert Islander, I read that a $25,000 fund was being recommended for the wellness of Mount Desert Island Regional School System employees.

The piece hinted that such a plan would have a positive effect on insurance rates. Did the insurer tell us this? Was a cost analysis done to indicate that such a savings would outweigh the $25,000 spent each year?

In that same paper, I read that a district-wide operations coordinator for transportation and maintenance services was being considered. I further read that a food service coordinator was desired. These individuals would interact with most of the schools in the system.

What would the annual salaries be for these two positions? After sitting through a recent Town Meeting in which our voters had to approve a burgeoning school budget, I’m a little surprised to see this in print.

When aspects of the budget were questioned, we were told that to not approve the budget as presented would mean the loss of teacher’s jobs and student curriculum. In other words, the voters were cornered because the students would be the losers.

I would like to see an effort to decrease school expenses. I would like to read about what efforts are being made to cut costs so that teachers’ positions and curriculum will not be at risk again at next year’s Town Meeting.

The wellness fund is expected to encourage employees to drink more water, monitor blood pressures, achieve healthy weight, and address anxiety and depression. In the case of the operations coordinator, it was acknowledged that the school system has outstanding staff, and the goal was never to reduce or change what the present staff is doing, only to enhance what they do. Likewise for the food service coordinator, there were no deficiencies found in the schools’ food services and there was no desire to take away their local authority.

These additions all sound like nice things to have, and would certainly relieve some of the workload from current staff shoulders. But I wonder if our school system couldn’t invent other ways to manage the perceived needs, or forge ahead without them until funding can be found within the budget, rather than simply asking the voters for more.

Let’s look at the flip side. Mike Gilmartin noted in his letter to the paper last week that the town of Trenton asked our school to reroof a section of its building so that a solar array could be put in place. This improvement would insure savings in power usage for years to come, beginning as soon as installed.

The town government was led to believe that the measure was seriously being considered, only to learn not really, that funds for the new roof wouldn’t be spared because there might be a boiler repair needed some day. This is being “penny-wise and pound-foolish.”

Trenton voters have funded the full school budget year after year, inclusive of the new Pre-K effort.

Our voters are proud of the Trenton Elementary School and of the teachers and staff within it. The residents have been informed that the school budget for next year will definitely go up 3.5 percent next year, to accommodate teacher salary increases that have already been negotiated. After reading these latest news articles, I expect to see even greater increases in the school budget next year.

But before I see these budget increases presented to me as a Trenton voter, I would like to know that the school system has looked at other no-cost or low-cost solutions to the issues raised: insuring wellness for staff; coordination of transportation and maintenance; and coordination of food service.

I see a desire to create new, tax-payer funded staff positions that are not directly benefiting the students. Let’s reroof and install the solar panels. At least we’d be saving some dollars there.

Susan A. Starr


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