Gorham prelim school budget tops $40M

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GORHAM — The superintendent’s proposed school budget, now under School Committee review,  exceeds $40 million for the first time. Although preliminary, the budget rises more than $2.4 million or a 6.45 percent increase above the $37.6 million approved last year. 

The district’s subsidy from the state will be $1.2 million less than last year’s.

The combined factors mean the local appropriation would rise to $21.5 million from $17.9 million, up $3.6 million and representing a nearly 20 percent increase.

The School Committee received the budget proposed by Superintendent Heather Perry at its all-day workshop on March 3, and Perry emphasized her budget is subject to “a lot of change.”

Under Perry’s preliminary budget, the projected tax rate would increase about $2.10 per $1,000 of a property’s valuation. So, taxes on a home valued at $250,000 would rise $525.

Perry in an email to the American Journal pointed out some contributing factors for the budget increase. Enrollment in kindergarten through grade 5 has increased by 157 students over the past four years.

“In order to meet the status quo with existing staff (no addition to account for increasing enrollment from FY 18) our budget would need to increase by $920,000,” Perry wrote.

But due to increasing enrollments, she has asked for $943,000 in new initiatives that include additional elementary teachers, special education assistance, and nurses.

The drop in Gorham’s state subsidy was impacted by a jump in the town’s overall property values. Perry said the town’s property values increased six percent, “the highest increase in the state of Maine.”

“The bottom line is that as our expenditures increase due to increasing populations, so too are our revenues from state decreasing due to increasing property values,” Perry said. “In other words, we need to provide more services to more students, somehow with less money.”

School Committee budget workshops are scheduled for four Mondays,  March 12, March 19, March 26, and April 2. The workshops may alter Perry’s proposed budget.

The School Committee will approve a final budget on Wednesday, April 11. Members of the public will have an opportunity to voice their comments in a hearing before the committee’s vote.

The next steps involve the Town Council.

The School Committee and Town Council will conduct a joint budget workshop on Tuesday, May 15. A public hearing will precede a Town Council vote on the proposed budget on Tuesday, June 5, and the Town Council could send it to referendum.

The Town Council cannot dictate how and where the School Committee spends money but councilors can cut the school budget. Last year, the Town Council trimmed the school budget by $300,000.

Gorham voters will have a final say in a school budget validation referendum at the polls on Tuesday, June 12.

Robert Lowell can be reached at 854-2577 or rlowell@keepmecurrent.com