The Colchester School Board will present taxpayers with a $42.59 million budget proposal for fiscal year 2020, a 4.98 percent increase over the previous year, creating an estimated 1.63 percent tax rate increase, officials said.
The owner of a $300,000 home would see an approximate $74.81 tax increase if voters approve the budget on Town Meeting Day. The state’s estimated education spending increase could change the total cost for Colchester residents. But business manager George Trieb said he’s confident the estimated tax rate increase in town won’t fluctuate greatly.
The proposed budget maintains its predecessor while adding two core teachers at the middle school, a .5 full-time equivalent English language instructor and a contracted social worker from the Howard Center — paid through Medicaid funds — plus $50,000 to supplement the district’s food service program.
According to superintendent Amy Minor, class sizes in Grades 7 and 8 are near 30 students. In prior years, a normal graduating class size was around 150 students, but projections show classes of 160, 171 and 173 pupils.
The two core teacher additions will help balance oversized classes and may allow the district limited capacity to accept tuition students from Grand Isle and Fletcher school. The district currently relies on tuition as a revenue source in its budget.
The .5 English language instructor will add to the existing EL role at the middle school. The teacher would serve Malletts Bay School where there is the greatest need for English-learning services, Minor said. Administrators had hoped to pass a budget with a full-time EL instructor to serve the entire district, save the high school where a like position already exists. But Minor said she’s pleased with the progress after three years trying to improve these services.
Trustees voted 3-1 on the proposed budget with chairman Mike Rogers in the minority. Board vice-chairman Lincoln White was absent.
Rogers voted against the administration’s proposal because he felt it excluded additions the district sorely needs, like an instructional coach to improve falling test scores and the full-time EL teacher to serve a growing population of foreign language speakers.
“I don’t think we’re going to catch up,” he said, adding additional resources could have helped the schools maintain their current standing.
“Sometimes you need to spend the money just to keep up,” Rogers said. “I thought this was a good opportunity, [but] I was in the minority.”
Rogers said cutting per pupil spending in previous budgets was mindful of taxpayers’ ability to pay, but it caused Colchester to fall behind other districts in the state.
Rogers said the teachers’ and administrators’ needs were compelling, and he was willing to increase the budget to help them. The staffing proposals would have given the superintendent more flexibility and resources, Rogers said.
Fellow board member Curt Taylor said he considered the staffing proposal, which would have added about $118,000 to the bottom line. In the end, he wasn’t convinced it was worth the investment and voted for the draft budget for its lesser impact on taxpayers.“I went with what I was sure was good rather than what I thought might be nice,” he said.
“I’m really pleased with what the board put forth,” Minor said. “They’re doing a great job of trying to meet our needs but at the same time being fiscally responsible.”
Town Meeting will be held on March 5. Voting is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Colchester High School.