GORHAM — The School Committee last week approved a $41 million spending plan, up more than $2 million, or 5.31%, from the current year’s $38.9 million.

The school budget as passed would increase the town’s tax rate 79 cents per thousand dollars of assessed valuation on property. It means taxes on a home valued at $250,000 would rise $197.50 to fund education.

The budget passed 6-1 with Bill Benson opposed.

Wages and benefits costing about $31 million represent the largest slice of the school spending pie.

Superintendent Heather Perry this week explained the biggest reasons for the budget increase include maintaining the existing staff that she called the “status quo,” costing more than a $1 million. She said the next biggest factor was addressing increasing student population.

“This caused us to have to add one K-5 teacher, a 4/5 health/PE teacher at GHS, purchase two additional new buses and add two additional bus drivers,” Perry said.

A school resource officer was added at the K-5 level to be shared among the three elementary schools while maintaining one full-time officer at both the high school and middle schools.

She said a third largest factor is a $180,000 increase to maintain facilities.

Perry said no funds are in the budget for a proposed high school expansion/renovation project that is under study.

Perry said $249,000 is earmarked for capital improvements connected with site work at Narragansett Elementary School. The Town Council on April 2 rejected sending a $1.8 million School Department request to referendum to pay for infrastructure upgrades, paving the way for portable classrooms at Narragansett. The funds would not have included leasing  portables.

According to the town charter, an expenditure of $250,000 or more would require a referendum. Perry said the $249,000 would “allow us to get a jump start on the project while we work on full referendum approval.”

The School Committee last week trimmed Perry’s initial request. Perry said, “because the Town Council voted against allowing a referendum question on the June ballot that would have had us leasing modular spaces for an expansion at Narragansett Elementary School, and because the Town Council indicated that they would prefer the expansion be bonded vs. being paid for from FY 20 school budget funds, the School Committee was able to reduce $561,000. from our originally proposed CIPS budget.”  Other minor reductions were also made.

The state’s general purpose aid is estimated at $17.1 million, up $758,994 from $16.3 million, and the state subsidy for debt service is expected to be a little more than $2 million. “Right now, I feel pretty solid with the total state subsidy figure of $19,102,524.85, but we should definitely know the final figure by the time the Town Council is asked to vote to approve the overall municipal budget,” Perry said.

In a next step, the School Committee will discuss its proposed budget with the Town Council in a joint workshop on May 14. The Town Council will conduct public hearings and votes on both the school and town budgets in its June 4 meeting.

The Town Council could vote to cut the school budget, but can’t dictate what to chop. An approved budget would go to voters in a validation referendum in June.

Robert Lowell can be reached at 780-9089 or email [email protected]

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