EAST MACHIAS, Maine — For 30 years, the Marine Trades Program at Washington Academy has turned out boat builders, mechanics and navigators.
“I believe we are probably the number one feeder program to The Boat School [in Eastport],” Head of School Judson McBrine said Monday. “There are hundreds of graduates making their living on the water, or working at Hinckley and other boat builders.”
But because of a change in the way the state funds vocational education, this could be the historic program’s last year.
Union 134 Superintendent Scott Porter explained Monday that before the Essential Programs and Services model was enacted by the state, vocational education was funded on a two-year delay — that is, all of the money expended would be reimbursed but not until two years after it was spent.
With the implementation of EPS, vocational money no longer is reimbursed.
“And all three towns [served by Union 134] are close to being minimum-subsidy receivers,” Porter said. “It doesn’t look good.”
McBrine explained that the program is located in East Machias at Washington Academy, which pays for a half-time instructor. But the rest of the program’s expenses — 1½ instructors, the associated technology program, and a Jobs for Maine Graduates instructor — are picked up by the three towns served by Union 134 — Cutler, Machiasport and Whiting.
McBrine said there are 20 students in the Marine I program, 10 in Marine II, 26 in the computer-assisted drafting program and 17 in the marine engines program. Some students may be in more than one class, he said.
Last year, before WA picked up the half-position, the program’s budget was $212,000.
This year, for the school year 2010-11, it is $160,000.
Union 134 is asking the participating communities to share the cost of that program as well as asking Washington Academy to increase its financial participation.
For the year 2010-11, Porter said, the shares were $81,482 for Machiasport, $40,459 for Cutler and $38,278 for Whiting. Porter said those amounts would be similar for the 2011-2012 school year.
They would be included in the overall budget, not a separate line item.
“What is so sad,” McBrine said, “is that these are poor towns. They are fighting just to hold on to their elementary schools.”
Informational meetings have been held in several of those communities and Porter said Monday that residents want to support the program but are worried about increased taxes.
“Everyone is saying how valuable the program is but they feel they cannot afford it,” Porter said.
Porter said the community meetings are only informational at this point.
“We begin designing our budgets in February and we need some input from the public,” Porter said. “We need to know what to do. The school board may have some touchy decisions to make in February and March.”