SAD 41 officials start work on 2024-25 budget

MILO — With the calendar having changed to a new year a month-plus ago, SAD 41 administrators are busy with budget preparations for the upcoming academic year. 

“We have started work on the budget,” Business Manager Heidi Sisco told the school board during a Feb. 7 meeting at the Penquis Valley School. She said SAD 41 is projected to receive about $400,000 more in state subsidy compared to the current school year’s approximately $6.9 million as part of the $11 million total 2023-24 budget.

Sisco said building administrators have shared their needs and requests and these are being built into the budget.

Superintendent Darcie Fournier said the finance committee would be meeting next at 5;30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 6 — prior to the monthly school board meeting at 6:30 p.m. — with administrators presenting on their budget requests.

In other business, the school board approved a request to advertise for a second music teacher in 2024-25 with this position to be included in the upcoming budget while district officials also look at a potential music ed tech position for the remainder of 2023-24.

Currently, long-time SAD 41 music teacher Jack Eastman is the only such educator in the district as he works with students in all grades.

“He’s one person and he’s spread very thin,” Fournier said.

“Currently, I see 300 students in a week,” Eastman said. He said this includes multiple classes in each elementary grade and four bands between grades 4-7 and high school with each group having between 40 and 21 members.

“I’m not complaining, you put kids in front of me making music I’m happy,” Eastman said. “I just feel I’m not meeting the needs of kids.”

He said not being able to provide sectionals has led to some students discontinuing performing in band as they get older. Eastman said he would love to be able to bring back a jazz band and offer guitar lessons to get more students involved, and understands there are budget and personnel constraints.

Eastman also said students have had him for a number of years, and there is a benefit to having another music educator’s voice. 

He said in the similarly-sized neighboring SAD 31 of Howland there are two music teachers. To the west, RSU 68 of Dover-Foxcroft has two music teachers plus two others are at Foxcroft Academy. 

“It’s a really competitive hiring process in April,” Fournier said, asking for the board to vote at the February meeting rather than wait until the spring.

Fournier said nearly a year has passed since the board has discussed a regional comprehensive high school project. 

In 2022 representatives from SAD 41, SAD 4 of Guilford, the Dexter-based SAD 46, and RSU 64 of Corinth met with the Maine Department of Education and were told they needed to cover the estimated $800,000 costs of an engineering study and other planning efforts before receiving $100 million in state funding to build the project. MDOE officials said the state would not fund the planning expenses, with these instead to be divided between the school units.

No districts were locked in as public votes on formally joining would be taken in the future if the project progresses.

“We kind of hit a real stall,” Fournier said, as the four districts were hesitant to spend around $200,000 apiece.

Since the possibility of the MDOE funding a to-be-determined portion of the costs has been raised, and Fournier said approval for this could be granted in April.

More than a half decade ago SAD 46 headed up an application between itself and SAD 4 for a $100 million first-of-its-kind secondary institution integrated with a career and technical school along with the University of Maine System and the Maine Community College System, and it would support industry training programs. Later on in the process SAD 41 joined in a non-binding agreement and then RSU 64. 

At first projects based in the Madawaska and Houlton areas ranked higher, but these proposed schools did not progress as residents could not agree on where to put the building.

The school board voted to enroll in a community solar program with Ampion. 

SAD 41 will still pay a monthly electricity bill to Versant, but by being enrolled in a community solar program then the district would be assigned to Ampion solar farms. Through the company, SAD 41 would earn credits based on the power generated by the solar farms.

Last month directors were told there is no cost to join and the estimated annual savings would be nearly $2,900 through an Ampion volumetric program for eight SAD 41 meters. The district would be given a $1,000 donation if voting to join by Feb. 29.

Under a separate monetary program, SAD 41 could also join at no cost and have another near $8,500 net savings through solar credits produced on SAD 41’s behalf at the solar farms. Ampion has 17 sites across Maine and more in other states.

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