A lone voter casts a vote on Brunswick’s school budget on Tuesday evening. Voter turnout was low throughout the day, Brunswick Town Clerk Fran Smith said, with only 1,499 votes cast. (Hannah LaClaire/The Times Record)

BRUNSWICK — Brunswick voters approved a $40.1 million school budget for 2019-20 Tuesday. The spending plan represents a $2 million increase over last year’s budget, but about $5 million lower than school officials had requested.

The unofficial tally was 887 in favor, 602 against. There were 10 blank votes.

This year’s school validation referendum ballot also included a non-binding advisory question, asking if voters thought the budget was too high, acceptable or too low, as well as whether the budget validation referendum process should be continued for another three years.

A total of 542 voters indicated they think the school budget is acceptable. A total of 660 voters said they think the school budget is too high and 226 marked “too low.” The majority of people voted to continue the referendum process, with 1,045 votes in favor and 416 against.

According to budget projections, $67.8 million combined school and municipal budgets will raise property taxes an estimated 4.97%. The tax rate will increase from $18.92 per $1,000 of taxable value to $19.86. For a home valued at $200,000, that means the tax bill would increase from $3,784 to $3,972.

The school budget includes about $13.3 million in revenue, meaning that taxpayers are asked to foot about $26.7 million of the total.

The school budget accounts for 60% of the overall budget and is driven partly by enrollment numbers, which are expected to increase next year when Coffin School rolls out a pre-kindergarten pilot program for 30 students. The state will reimburse the district for the estimated $260,000 startup cost for pre-K.

Most of the budget increase this year is accounted for in the $873,137 allocated toward increases in wages and benefits, but other costs include more than $100,000 to cover lost in grant funding and $587,897 for new positions. One such position is a new assistant principal for Coffin to help with the transition to the new Kate Furbish School in 2020. Increased supports for special education students, instructional resources that have been put off for years, and services for the approximately 95 homeless students in the district, including transportation needs, were also identified as top priorities for next year. 

“If we go below the budget we are presenting … we are talking about an absolute minimum to meet state mandates,” Ben Tucker, school board vice chairman told the town council earlier this spring. The proposed budget “does not meet the needs our principals identified to us,” he said, but that it “prevents us from going backward” when compared to other districts.

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