Rising enrollment drives early Yarmouth school budget talks

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YARMOUTH — The School Committee and Town Council have launched a preliminary discussion about next year’s school budget, with goals reflecting an increase in student enrollment.

In a joint meeting Monday, Dec. 4, Superintendent Andrew Dolloff presented the panels with background information to help frame the discussion around fiscal year 2019. He said he has not yet received budget requests from administration, which is needed before official deliberation begins. 

In recent discussions regarding updates to several school buildings, an enrollment study was completed that found a one-year, 1.6 percent increase in students from 2016 (1,600) to 2017 (1,626).

The study projected enrollment of more than 1,950 in 2027, with an increase of more than 70 students between this year and next. 

Dolloff said growing enrollment will likely require a need for more teachers and expanded services, such as transportation. 

“If we are going to pick up another 70 students next year, then obviously there are going to be some staffing issues at one level or another that we’re going to need to address,” he said. 

The fiscal year 2019 budget will be presented to the council March 15, 2018. 

When asked by Councilor Jim MacLeod if a sudden increase in enrollment has been seen in neighboring communities, Dolloff said Gorham and Westbrook are having similar conversations. 

“SAD 51 and Falmouth superintendents are not having these types of conversations,” he added. 

Dolloff highlighted the need for Yarmouth schools to maintain their instructional technology and infrastructure, expand their offerings of science, technology, engineering and math, consider benefits to world languages at the elementary level, and determine the need for public preschool education. 

In recent years, the school budget has include reduced funding for professional development of staff, which Dolloff said is “no small concern.” 

For the past three years, the School Department has received approximately $20,000 per year to allocate towards professional development from the Maine Department of Education. However, in the recently approved state budget, those funds were removed. 

Council Chairwoman Pat Thompson said she has always been in favor of professional development and holds it in high regard, which seemed to be the general consensus of both boards. 

Committee Chairwoman Jeanne Rapone added that there is “no downside to professional development.”

In terms of socioeconomic demographics, the department has shifted in recent years. The percentage of students qualifying for Free and Reduced Price Lunch has historically been around 5 percent. However, approximately 10 percent of students were eligible in 2017. 

Similarly, this year 40 students in the district were eligible for English Language Learner services, with five “on monitor” status for two years after leaving the program. This number is up from three eligible students at the end of the 2014-2015 school year. 

According to Dolloff, these changing demographics result in a need for more and varied services. When he was hired as superintendent in 2014, the district only had one half-time ELL teacher. 

Committee member Laura Coroi said she is a proponent of incorporating multi-lingual programming earlier in students’ education; currently it is only taught intermittently at the fifth-grade level. 

The panels also discussed the need for schools to provide special services to 3- and 4-year-olds. 

As it stands, the state identifies students from birth through school age who are in need of special services, such as physical and speech therapy, and provides those services. 

However, Dolloff added that legislation has recently indicated that local districts may be made responsible for educating 3- and 4-year-olds who are part of child development services. Right now, there are about 24 such students identified in Yarmouth.

Dolloff said the district is considering collaborating with Cumberland, North Yarmouth and Falmouth to regionalize these services if they are needed. 

“We looked at a budget the other day that would probably be about $2 million a year to provide services for these 110 students across the four towns that are identified by the state,” he said. 

Dolloff called the requirement a “quagmire,” but said administrators have been told they will not have to work it into the budget until 2019. 

As far as the fiscal year 2019 budget, the districts typical “roll forward” budget – which results in an increase in expenditures of approximately 3 percent year-to-year — would not suffice for the projected increase in enrollment.

Dolloff said the good news is that the district is likely to receive an increase in state funding because of their increase in enrollment.  

“We want to remain one of the finer, if not the finest, school district in the state,” Dolloff said. 

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.