News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, March 27, 2014
Blue Hill Town Meeting
Proposed Blue Hill school budget shows $421,000 hike
Pre-K program accounts for $95,000

by Anne Berleant

What is the cost of a pre-K through grade 12 education for Blue Hill next year?

Last year, voters approved a $4,688,779 budget for 2013-14. For 2014-15, the school board proposes $5,109,875, an 8.9 percent or $421,000 hike from this year.

The town finance committee begs to differ, recommending $225,000 less overall, with $200,000 of that amount aimed at cuts to regular instruction services (Article 9 in the town warrant).

“It’s our intent to raise concern about the 8.9 percent raise and whether that is sustainable by all the citizens in Blue Hill,” said Budget Committee Chairman John Chapman in a recent phone call. “It was not a unanimous vote by the committee.”

So, where’s the fat?

Article 9 asks voters to approve $3,114,896 for elementary and secondary instruction, a $326,947 increase from last year. The increase includes fixed costs, such as high school tuition, which accounts for $192,914 of the increase, with fewer students graduating this spring than will enroll in the fall.

Rising health insurance costs add about $38,500. New, state-mandated local teacher retirement costs, for both Blue Hill Consolidated School and George Stevens Academy, tack on $46,379. Contractual teacher salary increases add $58,511, a 5.5 percent increase in the teacher salary line.

Now for the expenses that the board can control, new programs and filling vacancies.

Three vacant positions, including one for the proposed pre-K program, are budgeted for teachers with master’s degrees and 10 years’ teaching experience with the commensurate salary attached.

“We’ve always hired the best candidates as opposed to the cheapest,” said Principal Della Martin in a recent interview.

The proposed pre-K program rings in at $95,000.

“The citizens of the town need to weigh in on whether now is the right time to offer new programs or fill what appears to be vacant positions,” Chapman said.

A straw poll at the 2012 town meeting weighed in favor, 176-104, of a pre-K program, but Chapman pointed out that no financial figure was attached to the poll. The following year, a motion from the floor to increase the budget $60,000 for a pre-K program failed 53-65.

“If people didn’t approve it at 60 [thousand dollars] are they going to want to approve it at $95,000?” Chapman said.

Special education, another cost that lies outside the board’s control, stands at $615,960, including administration, a $59,345 or about 10.5 percent increase. The finance committee recommends $595,000, which is $20,960 less.

One vacant ed. tech. position has salary and benefits equaling about that amount, but Chapman said the committee is only questioning whether vacancies need to be filled at the highest qualification.

“The committee is not trying to micromanage,” he said, but only start a dialog with citizens.

Other cost centers are flat or show minimal increases, such as operations and maintenance, which stands at $391,237, an increase of less than 1 percent, and the school lunch program, up 4.1 percent for a total budget of $147,113.

Anticipated state revenue is $90,000, with another $44,560 toward the school breakfast and lunch program. The board has allocated $143,254 of “balance forward” money, or money left in the budget from prior years, and $18,500 from a secondary tuition reserve account.

If the budget is approved as proposed, taxation will not rise “in direct relation” to the 8.9 percent increase, Chapman said.