Westbrook School Department’s $34.1 million fiscal year 2015-16 budget is in line to be tentatively approved this week, heading for first reading on Wednesday, April 8, after the American Journal’s deadline.

On Monday, members of the Westbrook City Council received a presentation from Superintendent of Schools Marc Gousse, outlining the final budget and the challenges facing the department this year.

Gousse said he tried to bring forward a budget that meets the needs of the students while also understanding the current economic situation and burden on the taxpayer.

As Gousse has stated before, next year’s budget presents no new positions or programs. The proposed spending increase is $135,000. Gousse said they had budgeted for increases in employee health insurance costs, which decreased, saving the department $77,000.

A theme running through the budget discussions has been the loss of revenue on the school side, which totals more than $1.1 million. With that, Gousse said, the department had to give up some capital improvements that were included in the original proposal.

This means projects that the department had planned for renovations to existing school buildings would be put on hold, an idea that caused concern from some city councilors.

“Are we taking better care of our buildings now, and do we have money to maintain them properly?” Councilor Mike Sanphy asked, referring to the handling of former Prides Corner Elementary School.

Gousse said there are no safety concerns, but said it’s unfortunate that there are no capital funds included in the budget.

In response to space concerns both within the school department and from residents, Gousse said a potential short-term solution is the addition of classrooms at the Westbrook Community Center.

The increased budget and local tax needs increase the school’s share of Westbrook’s property tax rate by 65 cents. The total city tax rate is slated to rise by 78 cents to $17.98 per $1,000 of valuation.

Councilor Victor Chau said he was concerned over the loss of revenue this year, which he said would be troubling if it is a continuing trend.

“We’re losing these funds for our kids, and we can’t sustain this,” he said, adding that he’d like to hear ideas for increasing revenues or lowering costs at the department.

However, the majority of councilors voiced support for the school department’s handling of the budget process, commending Gousse for establishing better communication with city staff following perceived friction last year.

If first reading is approved Wednesday, a second and final reading will be held at the School Committee meeting on Wednesday, April 15, at 7 p.m., in room 114 of Westbrook High School.

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