WINDHAM — After a month-plus delay to the budget process and nine different versions, the Windham-Raymond School District Board of Directors has settled on a $50.8 million spending plan for the next school year, up 4.6% over this year’s.

Chairman Janis Cummings said she is confident that next week the board will approve the RSU 14 budget, which includes a mostly state-funded pilot pre-kindergarten program at Raymond Elementary School. After approval, the budget will be reviewed at a public meeting and then will go to voters on July 14, according to Superintendent Chris Howell.

“I asked all the school board members (at the April 13 meeting), is this is a budget that you can support?” said Cummings. “And this is the budget that we can support.”

The proposed budget is $2.2 million more than this school year’s $48.5 million budget. Howell presented the ninth draft of this year’s budget at the school board meeting on April 13. His first version of the budget was $1 million higher.

Typically, the school board would have already voted to send the budget to Windham and Raymond voters, but the process was delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, which also caused the previously scheduled June 9 vote to be pushed back until July 14.

The most significant increase to the budget comes from a rise in negotiated salaries and contracts, and health insurance. This accounts for about 3.5% of the overall budget, said Howell.

“That’s making sure that we’re remaining competitive with our teachers and our support staff salaries, and that’s just maintaining programming,” he said.

There is also a slight increase, 0.6%, to account for an expected rise in enrollment and new hires. In Howell’s November presentation, he said that the district projects an increase in enrollment of less than 20 students, but noted in an interview this week that size of some of the existing classes necessitates additional staff. Howell said the plan is to hire two new classroom teachers, a part-time guidance counselor, a part-time music teacher, a speech therapist and one full-time and one part-time educational technology specialists. There will also be increased out-of-district funding for special education programs.

Howell and Cummings both consider the addition of a pilot pre-kindergarten at Raymond Elementary School a major success for the coming year. Howell said a community outreach campaign identified a public pre-k program as a top priority in Windham and Raymond. The campaign was conducted before Howell took over as superintendent last year. He said that implementing the program was a major component of the search for former Superintendent Sandy Prince’s replacement.

There would be 32 openings in the first year of the pre-K program, if approved. The cost of the  program is almost entirely offset by a grant provided by the Maine Department of Education.

According to Cummings, 78% of the state’s public school districts offer pre-k. The grant awards RSU 14 $250,000 and the district only has to pay about $30,000. The program accounts for about a 0.6% increase to the overall budget.

“It’s exciting, especially as with what the state is offering us is enough money to start it,” said Cummings. “It offsets any expense … It is money that we would not be getting if we do not (include) a preschool.”

There is no word yet on how the school district budget will affect Windham and Raymond’s town budgets or the property tax rates. Windham Town Manager Barry Tibbetts said on Tuesday that he cannot estimate how the school district budget will affect Windham residents’ tax rates until the school board finalizes the budget. This school year, the portion of the town’s budget allocated for the school district was $22,081,146.

This year, Windham residents paid $9.57 per $1,000 of property valuation in taxes to the school district. The owner of a $250,000 home paid $2,392.50 in taxes to the district.

Raymond has put their budget process on hold until the emergency order is lifted, and with several changes to the RSU 14 budget since February, those numbers are subject to change.

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