Falmouth school budget hike of 4.7% goes to voters

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FALMOUTH — The town’s nearly $33.2 million school budget for fiscal year 2016 goes to voters June 9.

The budget represents a 4.69 percent increase in expenditures. If approved, the school portion of the property tax rate would increase to $11.08 per $1,000 of assessed value, compared to this year’s $10.44, or an increase of $64 for every $100,000 of assessed value.

The budget was approved unanimously by the School Board on April 6 and by the Town Council on April 27, when the council also approved the municipal side of the budget, just over $11.5 million.

When it was first presented in mid-March, the budget called for a 4.99 percent spending increase. That was trimmed to 4.69 percent mainly because of reduced technology costs, School Board Chairman Andrew Kinley said.

The original budget proposal had a provision to increase the number of iPad computers for students in grades three, four and five. Technology Director Nate Barns had said in he expects to lose a third of the iPad fleet by January, as the devices are nearing the end of their usual life.

However, the board advised staff to find alternatives. This was ultimately scaled back to piloting a one-to-one  iPad program in third grade, and purchasing replacement machines for grades four and five. Kinley said the purchases for grades four and five “maintain the status quo.”

Kinley said the other components of the budget have remained constant.

Operating expenditures account for nearly 85 percent of the budget, at nearly $28.3 million, and personnel costs make up the largest part of the proposed spending increase. Of the nearly $1.5 million total increased proposed, just under $1 million would be for fixed-cost increases for existing staff.

When first unveiled, Superintendent of Schools Geoff Bruno said the School Department only expected about $30,000 from the state in general purpose funding, compared to about $1 million in the current year.

Kinley said the nearly $1 million that “should have been flowing into Falmouth this year, but is not at this time” was “a big unknown” for the district and accounts for “nearly two-thirds of the proposed budget increase.”

“That’s an unknown that we struggled with as we put together our numbers,” Kinley said.

Another element of the budget is hiring of a new third-grade teacher, to accommodate a large current second-grade class. Falmouth Elementary School Principal John Flaherty’s proposal to the board said this would ensure reasonable class sizes in third grade.

The proposal there are 170 second-graders, and without a new teacher class sizes would be up to 25 students. The cost is $80,000, which includes classroom materials.

Last year’s school budget, which was overwhelmingly approved by voters, totaled $31.7 million and was a 4.76 percent increase over the previous year.

Kinley said the budget is “solid” and “keeps Falmouth doing what Falmouth was doing.”

“While no one is excited with a tax increase, we’re pretty proud with what the budget supports,” Kinley said.

Polls open June 9 at Falmouth High School, 74 Woodville Road, at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. Absentee ballots are available until June 4 at the town clerk’s office at Town Hall, 271 Falmouth Road. Town Hall will also be open until 7 p.m. on June 4.

Residents may request an absentee ballot by contacting the clerk’s office at 699-5320.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.