Westbrook voters approve $36.3M school budget

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WESTBROOK — Voters narrowly approved the $36.3 million school budget for fiscal year 2018.

Residents on Tuesday voted 456-344 in favor of the budget. According to City Clerk Angela Holmes, the June election had a 6.1 percent voter turnout.

The budget is a $1.1 million, or 3.2 percent, increase over the current budget of $35.2 million. Voters in each of the city’s five wards approved the budget, except in ward 5 where it failed 122-117. 

Superintendent Peter Lancia said he was very pleased the budget passed.

“We are very grateful to the community for supporting the budget and our students,” he said Wednesday morning. “We are excited to maintain our programming and expand in the areas of student support services and innovative teaching and learning, and provide much needed school repairs.”

The Westbrook School Committee adopted the budget April 12 with a vote of 5-2, with Chairman Jim Violette and member Noreen Poitras against. The City Council on May 15 approved the budget 4-2, with council Vice President John O’Hara and Councilor Gary Rairdon opposed.

The council also approved the overall fiscal year 2018 budget of  $64.4 million, which is a 4.9 percent increase over the current year. The tax rate will be increasing by 94 cents, or 5.1 percent, due to the budget increase. This brings the rate to $19.34 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 cut to the budget came from the reduction of 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 adopted plan narrowed the request to 525.

Despite these cuts, Violette on Wednesday said he had hoped to present a smaller budget to voters.

“My concern is that I was happy with about 98 percent of the budget,” he said. “I wanted to send a message that I wasn’t happy with some expenditures.”

Violette said he thinks more laptops could have been cut along with a study hall monitor position, which together would have been a savings of $150,000. He said he thinks the narrow passing of the budget was a signal that some residents found the budget too high.

“I think it’s tax payers that are probably reacting negatively to tax rate increases,” he said. “They’re probably frustrated and wanted their voices heard.”

Overall, though, Violette said he’s happy the budget passed.

“At this point I think it’d do more harm than good to try to fight it,” he said.

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

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