GARDINER — The way Eric Jermyn sees it, there are two ways to think about the Gardiner area school district’s budget.

“If you compare per-pupil spending, which is the fairest way to compare, we are consistently in the bottom 10 percent,” said Jermyn, who is vice chairman of the School Administrative District 11’s board and chairman of the board’s finance committee.

“You can take that as a point of pride, because we do deliver a good education for the price,” he said. “Or you can take it as not a point of pride. People have told me we have to spend more money and improve the educational experience because when we are trying to sell homes here, one of the key selling points is a quality educational experience.”

Which way the spending balance tips will be determined by voters in the district next month.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, the SAD 11 board will vote on the budget at the district budget meeting, and the budget approved that night will head to a referendum vote on June 14 in conjunction with the state’s primary election.

The board is proposing a budget that’s $23,904,000, a $1.13 million or nearly 5 percent increase over the current year’s budget.

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The local share of the proposed budget would increase by $365,789.88, and it breaks down this way:

• Gardiner, $144,220.98 or 4.08 percent

• Pittston, $57,478.63 or 2.95 percent

• Randolph, $25,473.42 or 2.70 percent

• West Gardiner, $140,616.85 or 4.94 percent.

The spending plan includes funding to add nine and half positions in the district, and that decision, district Superintendent Patricia Hopkins said, was driven by what district officials are seeing in their schools.

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“Back in December, we were at a school board meeting and administrators began sharing some challenges they were facing,” Hopkins said. “Students are coming to us with more emotional and social needs than we have experienced before. We’ve had an influx of children since last year’s budget who have come with considerable needs and require one-on-one attention. Some of them are not acclimated to being in a public setting.”

In one elementary school where 230 students are enrolled, she said, 62 students had experienced some sort of trauma; nine had had a death in the family due to a drug overdose; 19 had witnessed drug abuse in their families including two whose mothers had overdosed but survived; 12 students have a parent in jail; seven are living with a family member other than a parent. Four were homeless. One had witnessed a shooting. Sixteen are identified as needing special education services and two new first-graders were classified as violent by the school district they came from. Some of these students had more than one of these experiences.

“When they have some of these factors going on, they can’t receive their education,” Hopkins said. “If they come to school not emotionally prepared to learn, they need support to get them to a point where they can be.”

The positions the district is proposing are a social worker for the Gardiner Area High School; a part-time math teacher for the high school; an elementary teacher for Laura E. Richards School; an elementary nurse; a science, technology engineering and math teacher for the Gardiner Regional Middle School; one teacher and two education technicians for a pre-K to grade 2 regular education behavioral program.

In addition to the fallout from the growing opiate drug crisis, the district saw an uptick in enrollments of students with special needs. Forty-one students enrolled, while 11 students left the district. That enrollment is double the number of special education enrollments compared to the previous year. Several of those students require one-to-one support. Hopkins said she’s not sure if that’s the start of an enrollment trend or a one-year anomaly.

“Maybe it will level off next year,” she said. “I’m not sure.”

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The budget also includes salary increases dictated by a collective bargaining agreement, health insurance increases, tuition to special private-purpose schools, an increase in secretarial hours at Gardiner Regional Middle School, a shed replacement, drainage work to the athletic fields at the high school and a storage addition at Gardiner Area High School that’s estimated to cost $70,000.

In addition, school district officials are anticipating nearly a $66,000 cut in the local entitlement grant, which are federal funds that are specifically allocated for special education and services to children with disabilities. Because of ongoing cuts to local entitlement funds, the district’s general budget now covers $200,000 in special education staffing that the grant used to cover.

Critics of the district’s budget point to shrinking enrollment and questioning why the school portion of their property tax bills are going up, Jermyn said.

“People on fixed incomes tell me they are not getting an increase in their Social Security, or if they are, it’s getting eaten up by an increase in Medicare,” he said.

At some point, they are going to sell their homes, he said.

“Do they want to be in a market that’s hard to sell in because the educational system is not good?” Jermyn said.

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What would help district budgets would be a state mechanism to work out some form of insurance against the swings and level out the volatility, he said.

“We were ready to finalize the budget when we heard about a situation where we had a student moving in to the district that would require out-of-district placement,” he said. “The cost of that education and transportation is upwards of $100,000 a year. I increased my number (in the budget) by $100,000 in the last five minutes because I had to feel good that we had the money built into the budget.”

Jermyn said when he first was elected to the school board, he came with the idea that the district was spending too much for too little, but that’s not the case.

“Here are my politics,” he said. “I am a fiscal conservative and a social moderate. I am a registered Republican and I believe in this budget.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ


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