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Fort Fairfield Voters Overwhelming Approve School’s $6.559 Million Budget


Included was a nearly $1 million increase to be funded by local taxpayers


By:  David Deschesne

Fort Fairfield Journal, June 5, 2019


   The 2019-20 MSAD #20 school budget was passed nearly unanimously, with little opposition to the articles on Thursday, May 23.

   The $6.559 million budget vote was broken up into 18 separate articles, most of which passed with 100% approval in a show-of-hands style vote of those in attendance.

   One of the articles which drew questions was Special Education, which represented $1.059 million out of the overall budget.

   Superintendent, Tim Doak explained how Maine has a really well run special ed program compared to most states and how the problem with budgeting is the prices have to go up because its format is individualized programs for each kid.  “We have to have IEPs for each student that qualifies.  It's not just a generic way of teaching, each kid is taught differently depending on what comes out of the IEP.”

   Doak said increased Special Education costs are common in all schools in Maine.  “When we looked at it across the State, it has been the number one increase over the last ten years of all the cost centers, throughout the State of Maine.” 

    MSAD #20 Special Education Director, Eric McGough explained some of the challenges schools face for some of their special education students is where they must be sent outside of Fort Fairfield schools to receive the services they require.  “As we see our needs arise, just in number of students in the district, that's not necessarily what drives our cost.  It's those out of unit placements,” explained McGough.  “We're very fortunate to have OTC in Presque Isle that we send some of our students to.  They provide a great education to the kids and they're one of the lowest [cost] special purpose private schools in the State.  Even at that, it's roughly $37,000 per student who needs to go there.”

   He said within the State of Maine some special ed programs can cost anywhere from $75,000 to $90,000 per student and some out of state service providers charge more than a University level education for just one year of special ed.  “We've had students have to go out of state and we actually had in one case the tuition was $200,000 for the student.”

   But, not all Special Education students in Fort Fairfield require such extensive and expensive education solutions.  “When we're looking at the high cost of special education it's not necessarily [from] the majority of our students that require some instruction in the Resource Room, it's these out of unit placements, it's the assistive technology that's very expensive, it's a lot of these more rare instances but they're incredibly important because it's what allows these students to access their education.”

   Another topic that generated some commentary was Article 14, which sought to raise additional revenues from local taxpayers by exceeding the State's Essential Programs and Services funding model by $913,922.  According to the budget report, “The MSAD 20 cost centers exceed the State’s EPS allocation model for several reasons including increases in property and casualty insurance, workers compensation insurance, heating and fuel costs, and increased needs for capital improvements.”

   Former MSAD #20 school board member, Karen Reynolds spoke up on behalf of those taxpayers in Fort Fairfield who simply can't financially absorb any further local tax increases.  “There are so many in our community who are aging, or are retirees.  My husband and I can take that increase, we're in a fortunate position where we can,” said Reynolds.  “I'm not ashamed to say we pay $2,700 for our local taxes this past year.  But other folks are struggling and I think that's the hardest element to swallow is if we're attracting people here, are we simply attracting student age?  I'm sympathetic, but I also think there must be creative ways that we can help the classroom teacher.”

   Reynolds suggested a mentoring program staffed by volunteers who have been vetted by the State to assist in classroom activities and tutoring.

   Supt. Doak said volunteers are always encouraged to contact the school to offer their assistance and the school district is continuing to look for creative ways to keep their costs down.

   The vote on increasing local taxpayers' debt load to the school by an additional $913,922 was the only one that was on a written ballot.  It passed 43-10 with one abstention.

   In the budget this year the school received approval to spend up to $100,000 from the reserve account for much needed maintenance and replacement of the building's North entrance doors, landing and steps which are deteriorating to the point that they are becoming a safety issue.  Also planned is replacement of the hot top on the athletic field side of the building which in places has worn down to the base layer - a layer not intended to effectively handle vehicle traffic.

  It will now be up to the Fort Fairfield town council to figure out how to fund the additional revenues required by the school and authorized by the voters.