SALEM — With only the pre-kindergarten program as a sticking point, about a hundred residents of School Administrative District 58 voted to approve a $9.4 million budget almost identical to the one rejected earlier this month.

In an “aye” or “nay” fashion, voters from Avon, Kingfield, Phillips and Strong gathered in the Mt. Abram High School cafetorium in an almost celebratory mood, voting unanimously on the first 12 of 15 articles proposed in the budget.

The final referendum on the budget will be held June 29.

The most contentious item of the evening was the final article proposing $192,033 for a pre-kindergarten program two days a week at the elementary schools in Phillips, Strong and Kingfield. Mike Pond, of Strong, proposed an amendment to approve no funding at all for the program.

Incoming Superintendent Susan Pratt countered with an amendment to support the program but for less than the recommended amount.

Pratt said that when she examined the budget and analyzed what it would take to run the program, she was confident the amount could be lowered to $180,033, cutting $12,000 from the original price tag. Pratt also added the wording “and expend” to the article, charging the program with actually using its funding.

“I just want to make the public aware of a couple of things,” Pratt said. “This year, if we put this in, in the first year we will get back our state ratio, which is 49 percent of the state funding for this, which is about $84,000 that will come back to us in next year’s subsidies. The following year we will get back more than the program is costing us — more than the program is costing us.”

She further explained, “So the first year we get back half of it approximately. The second year we’ll get back more than it’s costing us, and that’s because of the way they fund pre-K programs in the state of Maine.”

Pratt said that the programs are funded by Maine taxpayers, and there are currently 270 pre-K programs operating in the state. “We’re one of the few systems that does not have a pre-K,” she said.

“The numbers I gave you are simply the dollar amounts,” Pratt said. “I think if you do the research on pre-K, there’s a lot of residual savings, including the earlier you intervene with some of these students, the less special education you’ll have to pay. It has many, many merits for kids, and that’s why I’m really, really advocating for this program.”

Pratt said the funding will take care of itself if voters approve it. She said it is really about the results they will see in improved interventions for students.

Pond stood again to speak. “I’m not against 4-year-olds,” he said, prompting laughter from the room. “Here’s my problem: no music, not enough art, no dance, no foreign language. Guys, what about the kids that are going? What about making programs better? Don’t we care?”

Pond continued, “How many times have we seen the state promise? Sue says the program’s been running for 10 years. I hope it has, but how many times have I sat and watched the state promise that the money was going to be there for a program? And then it disappears, and then it’s back onto the backs of everybody.

“But it’s not just on the backs of the taxpayers. It’s on the backs of the children that just lost another program.”

Pond said he’s not against spending the money; he just wants to see it spent on the elementary children.

By the time ballots were cast, 65 voted for the pre-K program and 32 were opposed.

Article 12, outlining the monies raised for the district from each town, aroused dissent and was one of three articles demanding a ballot vote. The article was approved 92-3.

Douglas McIntire — 861-9252

[email protected]

Twitter: @CD_McIntire

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