Gorham council mum on school budget action

63
Town Council Chairman Michael Phinney discusses the proposed $37.9 million school budget with Superintendent Heather Perry following Tuesday's workshop. Pictured, from left, are Town Manager David Cole, Phinney, Perry and Councilors Benjamin Hartwell and Sherrie Benner.

Town Council Chairman Michael Phinney discusses the proposed $37.9 million school budget with Superintendent Heather Perry following Tuesday’s workshop. Pictured, from left, are Town Manager David Cole, Phinney, Perry and Councilors Benjamin Hartwell and Sherrie Benner.

GORHAM — The Town Council heard in a workshop Tuesday about the proposed School Committee budget, up $1.6 million and poised to hike taxes. Council action on the $37.9 million school spending plan is now less than two weeks away.

Superintendent Heather Perry presented details in a slide show about the school budget and a few town councilors briefly asked questions. The Town Council has authority to order a school budget reduction, but didn’t reveal what action it might pursue at its next meeting on Tuesday, June 6, when it votes on the spending plan.

“We’ll see you on Tuesday,” Town Council Chairman Michael Phinney told school officials at end of this week’s joint session.

School Committee member Suzanne Phillips, a former member of the Town Council, said following the meeting that she has no inclination what the council will do. “They won’t tip their hand to me,” Phillips said outside town hall.

Residents will have opportunity to comment on the budget in a public hearing June 6 before town councilors vote. The school budget is set for a validation referendum on Tuesday, June 13.

The proposed school budget would jump the tax rate 85 cents per $1,000 of property valuation. Taxes on a home valued at $300,000 would rise $255.

Voters in the referendum will decide the fate of the budget without knowing the state subsidy figure for general purpose aid. School officials based their proposed budget on receiving $16.5 million, an increase of $263,587 over this year, from the state.

Perry doesn’t expect to hear from the state until the end of June. If the state subsidy figure comes in higher than projected, the Town Council would determine where to apply the extra funds. One option could be to ease the local tax impact.

School officials would face a dilemma if the state subsidy allotment is less than they projected. “We’d have to freeze the budget,” Perry said. “We’d have to reduce the expenditures somehow.”