Falmouth schools propose 5% budget hike

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FALMOUTH — The School Department is proposing a nearly 5 percent budget increase in the 2016 fiscal year, for a total of nearly $33.3 million.

The projected impact on the school portion of town property taxes would be $68 for every $100,000 worth of assessed value.

The School Board and staff spent nearly seven hours over the course of two days rolling out the proposed budget. This year’s proposed increase is 4.99 percent, compared to the 4.76 percent for last year’s $31.7 million budget.

The largest increase in proposed spending went towards personnel costs. Of the nearly $1.6 million total increase proposed, just under $1 million would be for fixed cost increases for existing staff.

The board had reservations about a budget provision of $270,000 to increase the number of iPad computers for students in grades three, four and five. Technology Director Nate Barns said the school’s current iPads are nearing the end of their useful life, and expects to lose one-third of the fleet by January.

Ultimately, the board advised staff to look at alternatives to reduce the impact of the budget, saying they did not see the need for a proposed one-to-one student-iPad ratio.

“Come back with options,” said board member and Finance Committee Chair Lucy Tucker.

Superintendent Geoff Bruno said there were several ways to do so. The schools could finance the iPads, so there would be less of an up-front cost; take a middle-of- the-road option and only provide iPads on a one-to-one basis for a single grade; or simply replace devices as needed.

Bruno said last year the district received about $1 million from the state in general purpose funding, but that number is nearly $30,000 less this year.

“This forced us to be conservative in terms of new requests,” Bruno said.

Those new requests, totaling just under $255,000, included hiring a new third-grade teacher, a literacy coach for grades three through five and a network and systems engineer, all at $80,000 annually.

Director of Finance and Operations Dan O’Shea said a lot of new proposals were driven by enrollment changes. The projected number of students for the district in the 2016 fiscal year is 2,136.

Operating expenditures accounted for nearly 85 percent of the budget, at nearly $28.3 million. This includes nearly $11 million for regular instruction and just under $2.9 million for special education.

The board spent considerable time discussing the athletics budget, which makes up 2 percent of the budget. Specifically, the board spoke at length about whether to include core costs in the budget and how to tackle the “pay-to-participate” program.

School Board Chairman Andrew Kinley had advocated including core costs, which he said includes such costs as ice and pool time. He said this would allow the booster organizations to help pay for things that are “more wants than needs.”

The board largely agreed they would like to see theses core costs, totaling $14,000, to be worked into the budget. However, due to budget concerns the board decided to table discussion of pay-to-participate.

“Given what we did on core funding, I say keep it as is,” Kinley said. “Budgetarily we can’t make that up in funds.”

The board remained committed to taking another look at the program once the budget season was over.

“At the moment we should stick with what we have and seriously consider it next year, not a month before the budget,” said board member Clare Harrington.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Budget process moves forward

FALMOUTH — The School Board Finance Committee will meet again at 5:30 p.m. on March 23 in the Elementary School cafeteria to review the budget.

On March 26, the School Board and Town Council will host a joint budget review workshop at 5 p.m. at Town Hall. From there, the budget will return to the School Board for approval at its April 6 workshop and special meeting at 7 p.m. in the Elementary School cafeteria.

On April 9, the School Board and Town Council will host a public hearing for budget presentations at 7 p.m. A location for this has not been confirmed.

At the April 27 Town Council meeting, the council will vote on whether or not to approve the budget. After clearing the council, the budget documents must be submitted to the town by May 4.

On May 11, the Town Council will vote whether to send the budget to public referendum, which is scheduled for June 9.

— Colin Ellis

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 [email protected]