ELLSWORTH — An additional $696,000 in state subsidy for Ellsworth schools will be used to purchase a much-needed boiler at Hancock County Technical Center and turn a part-time high school health teacher position to a full-time one.
The remainder will be used to offset local education costs to taxpayers, with $200,000 allocated for this school year and just shy of $370,000 placed in a reserve account for future years, after the School Board unanimously voted last week to follow the plan it had presented to the City Council on Aug. 16.
Superintendent Dan Higgins had notified councilors earlier in the budget process that the school district would likely receive additional subsidy funds after the board, City Council and voters had already approved the 2021-22 budget, and that the board would discuss with councilors how to spend the funds.
The board’s finance committee, consisting of Paul Markosian, Muneer Hasham and Higgins, met with city officials before presenting the plan, but some councilors felt the entire additional subsidy should be handed over directly to taxpayers.
At the Aug. 16 meeting, a motion by Councilor Marc Blanchette to not endorse the board’s plan failed 3-4, with Councilors Michelle Kaplan and Gene Lyons joining Blanchette in the minority.
“In some ways, it was six of one, half dozen of the other,” Council Chairman Dale Hamilton told The American. “I think it should go back to the taxpayers, which is what’s happening.”
He added, “What’s important is that we pay attention to what [budget] baseline is, look at the increases, and look at the fund balance.”
And with the tax commitment for 2021-22 already made, property taxes have been set for the fiscal year, City Manager Glenn Moshier pointed out. “Realistically, if [the School Board] had returned the full amount, on a tax bill you’re only talking maybe about a two percent decrease.”
While the School Board has the authority to draft and approve an education budget each year, independent of the City Council, along with the authority to disburse funds, the Council can approve or not approve the budget as presented by the School Board.
“I think the way it’s structured, with checks and balances, is that the School Board puts the budget together, the Council has overall budget review and can kick it back, but the Council is not involved in how the funding is then spent,” Hamilton said. “And then, ultimately, the voters have the final say, which is how it should be.”
For the 2021-22 budget validation referendum, 166 voters — of 6,650 registered voters — cast ballots, approving the budget 133-33.