WEST BATH — The West Bath school board unanimously approved a $3.9 million budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year Wednesday, which carries a flat local tax burden.

The budget includes a $78,3000, or 2.05%, increase in expenditures over the prior year’s budget of $3.8 million. However, taxpayers will not see an increase because the West Bath School Administrative Unit was able to use carryover funds to reduce the local contribution to 0% when combined with the state education subsidy.

Emily Thompson, West Bath school superintendent and principal, said the committee wanted a flat tax rate to help ease the tax burden amid the COVID-19 pandemic because “we know families are struggling, we know communities are struggling, this is hard for everybody.”

The major drivers of the budget are a $79,500 increase, about 6%, in student enrollment and another $55,893.53, a 27% increase, to boost nursing services from one day per week to five days.

“I don’t know how we would manage meeting summer guidelines for reopening school without having a full-time nurse,” Thompson said at the board’s June 10 meeting. “I think it’s a prudent decision to have a nurse on-site given the needs of incoming students and the current state of affairs with COVID-19.”

Those increased costs are offset by a $53,000 reduction in special education programming and another $20,000 reduction in special education transportation due to a decrease in enrollment.

“As tough as this budget has been, we haven’t decreased any services,” said board member Ashleigh Randall. “We have been able to salvage as much as can, and that’s commendable.”

Thompson said an initial school budget was prepared in anticipation of a town meeting in March, but the budget needed to be revisited after the COVID-19 pandemic reached Maine and the town meeting was postponed to August.

The initial budget included financial allocations for another day of social services each week, a $45,000 roofing allocation, a proposal for hiring custodial staff and a $126,971.64 increase for grades 6 through 12 tuition based on anticipated enrollment.

Upon review, Thompson said the committee removed the roofing, shelving and flooring projects, reduced the allocation for new supplies and equipment, cut the custodial proposal, and removed board stipends, among other financial reductions.

She said making cuts to the initial budget was challenging because “we needed to think through the needs for COVID-19 and reopening the building in addition to what we need to run a school.”

“It’s a hard budget,” added Thompson. “No matter what we do, we can’t do all the pieces we feel like we’d like. … If we get to the fall and things look different than we anticipated, we may have to revisit that.”

The proposed school budget will go to a vote at the West Bath Town Meeting on Tuesday, August 18 at 6 p.m.

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