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School Board adopts $24.3 million budget for 2017

The School Board adopted a $24.3 million budget for fiscal 2017 at their meeting April 12, 2016.

The budget, up 3.2 percent over this year's, poses a $12.40 tax rate for school services, up 46 cents, or 3.7 percent, over this year's tax rate for schools. More than 80 percent of the increase is attributable to a 23-percent reduction in state aid for education, said board member Michael Moore.

The board will present its budget to the town council's finance committee on April 26, 7 p.m. in the lower-level conference room at Town Hall. Details of the adopted budget are available on the schools' budget website.

The budget approved by the School Board is $181,373 less than what was proposed by Superintendent Meredith Nadeau March 1. After learning that health-insurance premiums would remain flat for 2017, board members eliminated an 8-percent increase budgeted for health insurance, while adding $50,000 to contingency, resulting in a net reduction in spending compared to the budget originally proposed.

The largest challenge this year, said Jo Morrissey, chair of the board's finance committee, was a $778,729 reduction in state subsidy, offset by an "out of the ordinary" supplement of $300,000 from undesignated funds. "It is important to note that this reduces our undesignated fund balance to around $419,000, leaving us with about less than 2 percent of our budget in that account ... and could hamper our ability to protect our taxpayers from future reductions in state funding like we are currently experiencing this year," Morrissey said.

In a related matter, the board voted April 12 to ask the Town Council to include in its election warrant a provision that any unanticipated increase in state subsidy for 2017 go back to the School Department's undesignated fund balance. Typically the warrant provides for any extra subsidy to go to tax relief.

The budget accommodates negotiated base-salary increases ranging from 2.25-2.5 percent, which accounts for 82 percent of spending, Morrissey said.

The budget also takes into account declining enrollment. "Because of shifts in student need, this budget also represents some difficult choices that were made, including the reduction of four positions," Morrissey said. "These cuts are the results of attrition due to retirement, reduction in special-ed staffing due to decrease in student need, as well as straight-out staff reduction," she said. The schools expect to see 25 fewer students enrolled next year - eight fewer at Pond Cove, 16 more at the Middle School, and 33 fewer at the High School, Morrissey said.

"But, we still have to turn on all the lights, heat every room and run all the buses," Morrissey said, referring to capital and debt-service allocations that make up 10 percent of the operating budget. Incorporated into the Facilities Department request for $819,300 in capital improvements are $73,800 in security upgrades at all three schools, including secured vestibules, added cameras and other security measures.

After review by the finance committee April 26, the Town Council is expected to schedule a public hearing on combined municipal, school and county budgets before final adoption. A school-budget validation election will be held on Tuesday, June, 14, at the same time as the state primary and referendum.