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- The Forecaster
YARMOUTH — Increased enrollment and changing demographics are driving a proposed 8.7 percent increase in school spending for the 2020 fiscal year.
Superintendent of Schools Andrew Dolloff has presented a $29.9 million budget for the School Committee’s consideration, which represents a $2.1 million increase in spending over the current budget, the committee was told at its Feb. 7 meeting.
Dolloff said this week that “there are a lot of unknowns right now … and it’s way too early to predict what the impact on taxes will be at this point. The School Committee and council both have a long way to go before they’ll be ready to propose a final expenditure.”
Dolloff said the schools received some good news from the state last week. In a preliminary estimate, the Maine Department of Education said the district could receive around $600,000 more in state aid to education under Gov. Janet Mills’ proposed state budget.
He said the increase in state aid would help “offset increasing costs in a growing district – but that is a very preliminary number (and) it could go up or down depending on what the Legislature does.”
The School Committee is expected to hold a final vote on the budget package March 7; it will be presented to the Town Council March 21. The council is set to adopt a combined municipal and school budget on May 2, and voters will have the final say on school spending in a June 11 referendum.
In a memo to the School Committee, Dolloff said increasing enrollment is the main reason for several new expenses in the proposed budget, including a portable classroom, a seventh-grade teacher and a part-time guidance counselor at Harrison Middle School.
He said the entering seventh-grade class is projected to be one of the largest classes in Yarmouth’s history.
Over the past 10 years, enrollment has increased by 19 percent, from nearly 1,400 students in 2008 to more than 1,600 students today, he said, and this trend is projected to continue for at least the next several years.
According to two independent planning consultants, Dolloff said enrollment in Yarmouth schools would be approaching 2,000 by 2027.
While in prior years the School Department has addressed enrollment bumps by shifting teachers, “that will not be possible at the middle school in 2020,” Dolloff said, “as the remaining grades will each be operating at or near capacity.”
In terms of needing additional guidance help at the middle school, he said there’s only one counselor available to the 550 students, a caseload that’s “well above the standard.”
With more students coming into the school “and greater social-emotional needs manifesting themselves at the middle-school level, it is important that we take a significant step forward to address these (issues),” Dolloff said.
Increasing enrollment is also driving the need for at least one new bus driver, he told the School Committee.
“We have not provided additional buses or drivers during this period of enrollment growth,” which, the superintendent said, has resulted in “longer runs and crowded buses during winter months, when fewer students walk or ride bikes to school.”
Dolloff added that “one of the most common complaints we receive from parents is the lengthy, 40 minutes or more, bus runs, which result in younger students being dropped near or after sundown in many cases.”
Other proposed new positions in the budget are being driven by changes in the demographics of students and families coming into the district, Dolloff said, including the need for additional English Language Learner staff.
“Like many communities in greater Portland, Yarmouth is experiencing exciting growth in its immigrant population,” he said.
Ten years ago the number of ELL students in Yarmouth “could be counted on one hand,” according to Dolloff. But the number has increased from 40 ELL students in fall 2017 to 53 at the beginning of this school year, a 33 percent jump.
“As with all demographic groups of our student population, we anticipate this growth trend will continue for the foreseeable future,” he said, which is why the district needs to invest in ELL staffing.
Additional budget-drivers include a proposal for a part-time school district psychologist, more money for professional development and new part-time science and music staff at Yarmouth High School.
Dolloff also said the School Department is experiencing a big bump in its debt service for fiscal year 2020.
Last November voters approved borrowing a total of $52.2 million for several school capital improvement projects, including renovating and expanding Yarmouth Elementary School and expanding Rowe, Harrison Middle and Yarmouth High schools.
With that borrowing, the School Department’s debt service payments jumped to about $802,000 for 2020, an 8.7 percent increase, Dolloff said.
Other proposed capital expenses include two new buses, and new laptop computers for students and faculty, along with new desktop computers for office staff and new classroom LCD projectors.