News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, January 24, 2013
Proposed pre-K program keeps students in Blue Hill, at $49,000 price tag
School budget talks begin with 8.32 percent increase

by Anne Berleant

At a January 9 meeting, Principal Della Martin brought to board members a pre-K proposal that keeps students at Blue Hill Consolidated School, adds a teacher and an ed. tech. and costs $49.000.

The proposal comes after the pre-K committee looked into creating an off-site program in collaboration with Peninsula Montessori in Sedgwick or Surry Elementary School, collaboration with Head Start, where a required number of seats would have to be held for qualifying low-income students, and renting a “mobile” classroom (at a total program cost of $60,000).

With space at a premium in the school, the classroom that now houses the Spanish program would be used for pre-K, which, under the proposal, would “travel from room to room,” said Martin in a follow-up phone call.

“Our pathway, our kids” said Superintendent Mark Hurvitt about the proposal put forth by the pre-K committee.

Pre-K students would attend three full days per week in a classroom sufficient for 18 to 20 students. Special needs, such as occupational and speech therapy, are covered by state child development services.

Another option explored by the committee was not offering pre-K at all.

“What needs are we addressing?” asked board member Ben Wootten. “I don’t see any justification or compelling reason.”

He questioned whether a pre-K program was “the most productive use” of school funds.

“The research is out there to support a program like [the one proposed],” board member Annie Rice said.

A 2012 straw poll at town meeting was in favor of offering a pre-K in Blue Hill, 176-104.

“I feel strongly we have the support in the community,” Rice said, based on the straw poll and on anecdotal evidence.

Martin, whose undergraduate degree was in childhood development and has taught in Head Start, said that pre-K should stress socialization skills and developmental play over academics. “I think we can do a program that meets the kids’ needs…I don’t want a mini-first grade.”

“To me, this is a huge win-win situation,” said Chairman Jon Smallidge.

The $49,000 cost of the program is in the first draft of the 2013-14 budget for board consideration, Hurvitt said, although starting it in 2014-15 is another option.

“A lot of things are in the budget that are not going to make it,” he said.

Next year’s budget is already constrained by a nearly $147,000 increase in high school tuition costs and a $49,846 increase in staff raises negotiated by contract.

Hurvitt said that “it might be time to apply” $28,500 that lies in a reserve account created to cover the tuition cost of three additional students above the projected number in a given budget.

Overall, the first budget draft shows an 8.3 percent or $373,538 increase from last year, for a total of $4,865,459.

“It’s going to be tough getting it down,” Hurvitt said.

Last year, voters approved a 2012-13 budget of $4,491,875.

Hurvitt updated the board on ongoing school safety and emergency plan assessments by Maine State Trooper Greg Roy and Hancock County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Dick Bishop. The school’s emergency plan “doesn’t need that much tweaking,” Hurvitt reported. “We’re going to have some real tangible recommendations or plans” at the next board meeting.

In other business, Martin’s contract was unanimously extended one year, through June 30, 2015, with a 3-percent raise for 2013-14, increasing her salary to $75,378.

The board unanimously approved six BEEM grants totaling $7,250 for musical, technical and sports equipment, furniture, grade 5 team-building activities and to restore a pinball machine for BEEM fundraising. Blue Hill Education Enrichment Monies, or BEEM, is a nonprofit organization that provides funds through grant applications for educational projects and activities in the Blue Hill school system.

Wootten requested a proposed sports policy be amended to include as a goal of elementary school sports: “To have fun and get exercise.” The board unanimously approved the policy as amended.

The board also unanimously approved amending MLTI laptop policy 6035B as follows: “All laptops are equipped with parental control software to monitor software and Internet usage on and off campus.” The software program in current use is Net Nanny.