Originally published in The Weekly Packet, February 20, 2014
Board approves Blue Hill school budget, increase nearly 9 percent
Appeal of student transfer denied by DOE acting commissioner
by Anne Berleant
After last minute reductions across several budget lines, the Blue Hill School Board unanimously approved a 2014-15 budget of $5,110,370, an 8.99 percent or $421,590 increase from the current year.
“We can’t do anything about salary increases…[or] the increase in students to GSA,” said member Ben Wootten. “Isn’t it a choice whether we include pre-K?”
Voters at last year’s town meeting asked the board to consider a pre-K program for this year. “If people want to cut pre-K,” they can amend the elementary instruction article by $95,000, the cost of running one pre-K class, said Superintendent Mark Hurvitt.
Without pre-K, the budget increase would stand at about 7 percent, “which would make people throw up” just the same, Wootten said. An increase in the number of high school students is adding $183,114 over this year’s costs. Secondary education costs total $1,325,165. Teacher costs are also up, with salaries increasing 5.5 percent or $58,511; health insurance 14 percent or $38,484; and new state mandated retirement contributions adding $29,492.
“I just don’t see how we can cut any more out of the teaching budget,” said member Susan Keenan.
Special education costs are also on the rise, at 11 percent or $56,455, for a total of $566,561.
Before the 5-0 vote to approve, the board cut one of the five extra high school tuitions and agreed to use $18,500 from the tuition reserve account towards the 2014-15 budget.
Voters will be asked to approve the school budget at town meeting on April 5.
Out-of-district transfers up by one
A student request to transfer from outside the district to Blue Hill Consolidated School was approved by Acting Commissioner of Education, James E. Rier, Jr., who denied the letter of appeal sent by Superintendent Hurvitt.
Hurvitt said the commissioner called the letter “illegal” because it was written to him and not the state board, and will not consider a further appeal.
Now four students are attending BHCS “on a free ride,” said member Jan Snow.
Commissioner-approved transfers require schools to enroll out-of-district students at the school’s cost.
“It’s happening all over Maine,” Hurvitt said.
Wootten suggested “getting the money to follow the kid.” Snow asked whether it would help to change BHCS policy of not allowing tuition students—a policy the commissioner considers “illegal,” Hurvitt said.
Wootten and Hurvitt will meet with Senator Brian Langley to see if legislation could be introduced to have tuition accompany student transfers.
“It’s not a personal issue [against the students]” said member Annie Rice.
In other business, Hurvitt informed the board that the library roof will be repaired by Williams Roofing when the weather permits. “They will make good on the roof,” Hurvitt said.
Melting ice and snow in January leaked through the roof, which had been replaced (by Willams Roofing) in November of 2011.
Finally, Michelle Schildroth was unanimously appointed as spring athletic director.
Blue Hill School Board, Wednesday, March 12, 5 p.m., BHCS