GARDINER — For more than a half-hour, students hoping to wrestle at Gardiner Area High School made their case Thursday to the school district’s finance committee.

Alone, or standing with a parent or two, the students stood before the committee and reeled off the reasons why the high school wrestling program should not be cut: Wrestling helps them stay in shape, do well in school and meet and make friends.

But the words of Dan Del Gallo, a Gardiner Area High School graduate and 2017 NCAA Division III national champion in his weight class, were persuasive.

“I’m sorry if I get emotional,” Del Gallo said, “but it’s shocking to see this program considered for being dropped.”

Wrestling develops character like no other sport, the three-time state champion said, and it helped turn his life around. When he graduates in a couple of weeks from the University of Southern Maine, it will be with a 3.9 grade point average and that would not have been possible without Gardiner’s traditionally strong wrestling program.

“That was an impressive young group that got up to speak,” Eric Jermyn, the finance committee chairman, said Friday. “And Danny Del Gallo was particularly impressive and moving.”

When the district’s proposed $24 million budget is presented to the full School Administrative District 11 board May 4, it will include funding for high school wrestling and freshman boys’ and girls’ basketball, although not for freshman football, all of which had been identified for elimination.

The spending plan reflects a 0.63 percent increase over the current year’s budget, Jermyn said. The tax increase to the communities that make up the school district – Gardiner, West Gardiner, Randolph and Pittston – will be about 3.74 percent. The amount will differ by community because of local property valuations.

“I do feel like we worked really hard on the budget,” he said.

When the finance committee started its work, the proposed spending plan was about $800,000 higher than the current year’s approved budget. The initial target was to pare down that figure to about $420,000 higher than the current year’s, but the committee ended up with a recommendation that’s $337,000 higher.

On Thursday, committee members debated the costs and benefits of sports for the students who participate and the need to add money for supplies back into the proposed budget.

SAD 11 Superintendent Pat Hopkins made a case for restoring funding for supplies if funding were restored for athletics. As a former high school athlete herself, Hopkins said she understands the value in sports, but adding money for supplies benefits all the district’s students.

“It’s also our responsibility to make sure students are prepared for college and careers,” she said at Thursday’s meeting.

When the committee agreed to fund the sports at $19,500, it also agreed to restore that much for supplies for classrooms.

Among the other changes in the proposed budget is a change in technology for students. While students have been using MacBooks, an Apple product, some will start using Chromebooks, a more economical alternative.

Because of investments in software, training and budget constraints, the district cannot switch all the computers at one time. Not all the educational software is compatible for both Mac and PC systems, but that’s expected to change as more schools across the United States opt for Chromebooks.

Jermyn characterized the budget as lean.

“It’s the must-haves that are in the budget,” he said. “There are no nice-to-haves.”

At this point in the process, Jermyn said, the only unknown is the amount of state subsidy the district may receive. Because that’s not currently known, it won’t be a part of the budget that will go before voters in June, and the district ordinarily would not have the authorization to spend that money.

But this year, changes at the state level will allow school districts to address that with a warrant article that details how that money could be used.

Jermyn said the budget that goes to the school board will have some flexibility in how that subsidy can be used. To make the budget numbers work, $287,000 from the district’s carry-forward funds were used. Replenishing that fund is a priority, he said, and a warrant article that allows that will be presented.

But as budgets are more lean, there’s less carry-forward available to help develop budgets, and the school board will have to look at other options for savings.

“The reality is that the enrollment in the district is shrinking, and we do have to consider how to consolidate,” Jermyn said, and that might include closing a school with low enrollment.

That’s a conversation that’s expected to get underway later this year, he said, and it will involve elected officials and residents of the communities that make up the district.

“We are delivering a good education experience. Our kids are seeing good results and getting into very good schools. We have kids that will be headed to Ivy League schools,” Jermyn said. “The teachers are still the same. The students are still the same.”

Jessica Lowell can be contacted at 621-5632 or at:

[email protected]