Voters in Phillips-based Maine School Administrative District 58 approved a $9 million budget, up 0.2 percent from the year before, at the annual budget meeting Wednesday night.

The budget goes to a district-wide referendum vote on Tuesday, June 10, in the district that also includes Avon, Kingfield and Strong.

A handful of residents attempted to vote down several new additions to the budget, like a dean of students position and the initial work for adding a two-day pre-kindergarten program. However, each proposed reduction was overwhelmingly voted down by the majority of the 120 voters in attendance at Mt. Abram High School.

Voters approved a measure proposed by the school board to add a dean of students position that would also serve as the athletic director. The total position, including benefits, is $53,000 with $10,000 being to compensate for being the athletic director.

Last year, voters did not approve a proposal to have a principal in each elementary school, instead of each principal in charge of two schools. After voters rejected funding for the position, the school board still wanted a one-to-one ratio of principals to elementary schools for safety reasons, and cut the vice principal, who doubled as athletic director, at the high school instead. Three people have instead juggled the former vice principal’s load and school board members said that there was no one to handle the disciplinary problems.

The new dean of students position will fill this void in the coming school year.

“It is our recommendation that this is what is best for this district,” said school board chairman Diana Thomas to the residents, prior to the vote that approved the position.

Thomas said the board had long debate about whether it was fair to the taxpayer to add the position, or whether it was needed for safety reasons and concluded the dean position was needed.

The voters also overturned a recommendation by Phillips resident Andrew Phillips who asked to cut $18,000 and eliminate the late bus that brings a second round of students home later in the day.

School Board member Kim Jordan said that the school board felt that it was a needed expense for safety reasons. She felt if the funds were cut, then students who stayed late for sports or studying would instead get rides home with friends which she said is riskier and in some cases against the law.

Finally, the voters approved $30,000 to start laying the groundwork for a pre-kindergarten program that would run two days a week.

Resident Cindy Hatfield spoke against the measure saying it was not in the taxpayer interests to start a new program.

“I don’t think this is a time for starting new programs,” she said.

Thomas said that the program is necessary to stay competitive and that it is on track with a state goal to eventually mandate pre-kindergarten.

“It’s all happening in other parts of our country,” said Thomas. “If we don’t start preparing for this, we’re going to be whacked with it all at once from the state. This will get the ball rolling.”

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252 | kschroeder@centralmaine.com