April 04, 2020

School budget unresolved at Bar Harbor

BAR HARBOR — The Town Council and the Bar Harbor School Committee remain more than $100,000 apart on the size of the elementary school budget for next year.

On Tuesday evening the council adopted a $7.5 million budget for next year, with the amount included for the elementary school portion of the budget about $127,000 less than that recommended by the school committee.

School Superintendent Howard Colter said Wednesday the school committee will proceed with the budget it has adopted, hoping to receive support from the Town Council and the Warrant Committee, “and then leave it up to voters to decide on the floor of town meeting.”

The Bar Harbor School Committee had cut $5,000 from the “safety factor” account in its 1993-94 budget at a special meeting last week in response to the council’s request that $132,000 be trimmed. The committee also voted last week to delete $44,000 from the town’s capital improvement budget by postponing the purchase of a school bus to another year.

According to Town Manager Dana Reed, the council rejected committee’s recommendation to delay the bus purchase, noting the poor condition of the oldest bus in the fleet. The 1980 school bus has logged about 168,000 miles; the second oldest bus, 146,000 miles. In recent days, about $700 has been spent on repairs after an elementary student nearly fell through the steps while boarding the bus, Reed said.

The original school budget adopted by the school committee in December showed a 16 percent increase over last year. The Town Council objected to the size of that increase and called for only a 10 percent growth in the budget, or a cut of $132,000.

School committee members met last week to consider possible cuts to the budget, including looking at eliminating or scaling back several programs at the Conners-Emerson School. The committee decided against making any cuts in those areas.

Also reconsidered were the four additional teaching positions included in next year’s budget, added in response to the rising enrollment at the school. Those positions were left in the budget as well.

Committee member Marly Sachsman argued that the school budget could not be cut further. She said any further cuts would have a negative impact on either the faculty or programs.

Two of the five school committee members, however, had voted against the original budget. Walter Norwood suggested last week that the Options program, one music position, and the part-time administrator planned for the Emerson School be eliminated from the budget. His position was not supported by the majority of the committee.

The budget adopted by the Town Council, that would raise property taxes by about 4.5 percent, will now undergo scrutiny by the warrant committee. Townspeople will have the final word on both the municipal budget and school budget at the annual town meeting in May.

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