Draft of city school budget up 7.91 percent

ELLSWORTH — Spending is up 7.91 percent in a preliminary draft of the Ellsworth School Department budget for 2019-2020, according to numbers provided by City Hall.

The overall figure, which includes adult education and state funding, is $23.06 million.

“To support a budget at this level, citizens would be asked to contribute $12,122,095 to support the education system in Ellsworth,” Superintendent Dan Higgins wrote in a memo to city councilors before a budget workshop on Monday evening. That is a proposed increase of 6.94 percent in the local share.

The expenditure side of the budget, which Higgins said his office had been working on since November, “focuses on several primary needs.”

There are a few big-ticket maintenance items on the list, including $100,000 to repair and replace lights on the soccer field and $58,000 for work on the gym floor.

The School Department also is requesting a replacement school bus at a cost of $18,000 and funding for an overflow bus driver. The $18,000 is a single year’s payment on a five year lease-purchase agreement.

Some of the larger proposed increases are on the career and technical education side. Department officials are requesting $150,000 for a “feasibility/facility study” that would look at potential construction or renovation of Hancock County Technical Center (HCTC).

“This facility was built in the 1970s,” said HCTC Director Amy Boles.

Boles said the center has been “exploring the possibility of different options” with business owners, the Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce and other interested parties “to help with workforce development in the area. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Higgins also provided councilors with draft budget figures that do not include funding for the study.

Officials also are requesting funding for “security enhancements” and money to replace the roof and several doors at HCTC.

The budget also includes money for new positions, including a second-grade teacher, an information technology staffer and several new high school teachers.

The proposed positions are an effort to deal with “shifting enrollment” at Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School, Higgins explained, as well as a “projected increase of 45 students” at the high school.

The budget also includes funding for staff members to support students with mental health and behavioral challenges as well as those with special needs, due to an increase in enrollment of such students in the school system, Higgins said.

“We are also proposing new staff to support technology equipment, infrastructure and support, custodial services and increased numbers of students who ride buses or require specialized transportation,” Higgins said.

The numbers may change depending on a variety of factors, including whether or not the Legislature makes any alterations to its budget this summer.

The state contributes a certain amount to each local school department. The amount is based on what the state has earmarked in its budget for school funding that year as well as what officials say is necessary for a department to provide essential programs and services for students.

State officials take into account a number of factors when determining how much money to provide to local school departments for those services, including property values, the number of special needs students served and the staff-to-student ratio.

In Ellsworth, officials say it will cost a total of $15.12 million to provide the essentials for students in 2019-2020. The state will provide roughly 43 percent of that, leaving the city to come up with the rest, as well as any other funding local school officials deem necessary.

But all of this could change.

“It is important to know that the final level of state support for education will not be known until the Legislature completes its work,” Higgins said.

“There are still a number of bill proposals that could adjust funding levels.”

Kate Cough

Kate Cough

Kate covers the city of Ellsworth, including the Ellsworth School Department and the city police beat, as well as the towns of Amherst, Aurora, Eastbrook, Great Pond, Mariaville, Osborn, Otis and Waltham. She lives in Southwest Harbor and welcomes story tips and ideas. She can be reached at [email protected]

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