May 30, 2020

Space crunch drives up budget for Sumner High> Officials grapple with spiraling special education costs

SULLIVAN — The lease of another portable classroom to accommodate a growing student body is among the major expenses in Sumner Memorial High School’s proposed 1996-97 budget.

The latest draft represents a 9.5 percent hike over last year, but efforts to trim it continue.

Union 96 Superintendent Don Carlisle on Monday reported school committee members have requested further cuts in the proposed budget, which currently stands at $2 million compared with the $1.898 million budgeted for in 1995-96.

“It would be premature to think of [$2 million] as a hard number because there are cuts still being made,” he said.

Carlisle attributed the projected $102,000 jump to the need for another portable classroom, a surge in tuition at the Hancock County Technical Center, the hiring of an additional special education teacher, rising special education costs and other factors.

Sumner Memorial High School draws students from Franklin, Gouldsboro, Sorrento, Steuben, Sullivan and Winter Harbor. Its enrollment now stands at 350 students, but demographics indicate that number could climb to 460 by the turn of the century, according to administrators.

Besides the projected rise in enrollment, changes in teaching have made demands on space at Sumner. Certain classes are longer and involve “hands-on” activities. The growing use and number of computers also require more room.

Planning for the long term, Sumner Principal Katie Donovan and members of an advisory committee recently submitted an application for a new building to the Maine State Board of Education. Later this spring, state education officials are expected to tour the high school and rate the building project to determine its priority compared with other projects.

Sumner already has a portable classroom in place, but administrators believe another is needed to accommodate the 110 freshmen expected next September. They say the least expensive option is to lease a portable classroom at an annual cost of at least $18,000 over a three-year period.

Besides the space crunch, Carlisle said, rising special education costs are boosting the 1996-97 budget. Sumner has more than two dozen special education students, but that number is expected to jump to 45 in September. As a result, $125,000 is being budgeted to cover special education costs compared with $90,000 last year.

“We have more students being identified as in need of special education,” he said.

Carlisle said Sumner now has only one special education teacher. He said a second position has been budgeted with a salary range between $20,000 and $33,000, depending on the person’s experience.

The superintendent also reported next year’s tuition at the Hancock County Technical Center has shot up $1,000 per student. He said 10 Sumner students attend classes there.

“You either budget for that increase or don’t send as many kids there,” said Principal Donovan.

Besides seeing rising instructional costs, Donovan said, Sumner also has some hefty fixed expenditures such as the first $56,000 payment due on the $295,000 bond secured last year to replace the gym floor, renovate the gym bleachers, install acoustic paneling on the stage, and carry out other renovations to the high school building.

“These are fixed costs that have nothing to do with the instructional part of the budget,” she said, adding the high school’s water rates have shot up from $740 to $2,200.

Donovan said she expected the proposed budget to go through several more drafts before being presented to voters at the school district’s annual town meeting in June. She said the school board’s next budget workshop is at 7 p.m. Monday, April 8, at the high school.

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