Falmouth school budget hurdles: tech, charters, enrollment

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FALMOUTH — The School Board and administrators had preliminary discussions on the challenges of the budget for the upcoming fiscal year at Monday night’s workshop, with enrollment, charter schools and technology identified as three of the biggest issues.

Finance Director Dan O’Shea said some classes saw enrollment increases this school year that were higher than anticipated. For example, the projected enrollment change for second grade in the fall was four additional students, but there were actually 20 additional students. Likewise, the high school senior class had one expected additional student, but actually had eight more.

More students coming into the schools has an impact on the number of teachers needed and the space they can use. Falmouth Elementary School Principal John Flaherty said he had concerns about next year’s third grade because of the size of this year’s second grade. He said the school will likely need another third-grade teacher.

School Board Chairman Andrew Kinley said most of the Falmouth students who now attend charter schools had been home schooled, so the School Department now has the added expense of paying tuition for those students.

Another wrinkle, Kinley said, is some students leave charter schools shortly after joining them. However, the home district does not get its money back if the student returns to home schooling.

There is also concern over a potentially large budget impact from the cost of replacing technological devices, like iPads, that are approaching the end of their lifespan at the same time. The board agreed there is a need for long-range planning for technology replacement and update.

Superintendent Geoff Bruno said the schools are using the first generation of iPads.

Kinley also said there is need for more technology in the classrooms: frequently multiple classes have to share things like computers and iPads because there isn’t a one-to-one ratio of devices to students.

O’Shea said for the department to do everything on the technology wish-list it would cost $500,000, but that can’t be accomplished. He said the department may look into increasing inventory and not just updating it.

There will be several more budget discussions throughout the winter and spring, including workshops and joint council and board meetings, all leading up to a school budget validation referendum on June 9.

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

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.