School Committee’s approved budget up 3.2 percent

The School Committee has adopted a fiscal year 2018 budget of $36.3 million, which is down $400,000 from the budget presented by Superintendent Peter Lancia last month.

WESTBROOK — Less than a dollar will be added to the total city tax rate under the school budget adopted last week.

The School Committee adopted the $36.3 million budget April 12 with a vote of 5-2, with Chairman Jim Violette and member Noreen Poitras against. The fiscal year 2018 budget is a $1.1 million, or 3.2 percent, increase over the current budget of $35.2 million.

The budget approved last week is $400,000 less than the budget proposed on March 1 by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Peter Lancia. When factored into the proposed city budget on April 10, Mayor Mike Sanphy used a proposed school budget of $36.5 million, which is what the School Committee had been discussing at the time.

The overall budget of $64.6 million presented by Sanphy came with a tax rate increase of $1.10, or 6 percent over the current year. With the newly adopted school budget, though, the tax rate may instead increase by 96 cents, or 5.2 percent. This would bring the rate to $19.36 per $1,000 of assessed value, up from the current rate of $18.40.

The School Committee cut several of its original requests in order to present a smaller budget to the City Council and to voters. Maintenance requests and building upgrades have been postponed, some new positions are being paid for with grants, and health care costs came in less than expected.

A large discussion on April 12 revolved around the need for new laptops at the elementary schools and for fifth- and sixth-graders at Westbrook Middle School. The original budget proposed buying 750 Macbooks, and the committee over the past few weeks narrowed the request to 525.

On April 12, Lancia proposed not buying any new laptops in the next fiscal year and waiting until the following year instead.  

“We’re hoping we’ll be able to squeeze out one more year with the white Macbooks that are in working condition,” he said. 

Many School Committee members were against this because the current laptops are in such poor condition and don’t have the necessary upgrades.

“There’s no viability for these white (Mac)books,” member Veronica Bates said. “They can’t use the software the teachers are using.”

The committee decided not to cut the Macbook purchase completely and went ahead with the purchase of 525. 

Some members, such as Chairman Violette, said they weren’t happy with the overall budget increase. Violette said his goal was to adopt a budget with an increase of less than $1 million.

Bates on the other hand said she thinks less of what the city will think of the budget and more about what the students need.

“I know that the decisions that we make will impact tax payers … but we’re here to take care of the kids and so that’s where my responsibility lies,” she said.

The City Council is scheduled to have a first reading of the overall budget, including the school budget, on May 1 and a second reading and approval May 15. The school budget will go to referendum June 13. 

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

The School Committee has adopted a fiscal year 2018 budget of $36.3 million, which is down $400,000 from the budget presented by Superintendent Peter Lancia last month.