By Elizabeth F. McNamara

When the Town Council approved the fiscal year 2019 budget June 6, the School Committee ended up with more in its budget than the council had been considering for the weeks leading up to the vote, but still less than half of what it had requested when it set its budget in April. At its meeting Tuesday, it will have to reconcile that difference.

The approved town budget gives schools $35 million, up $1 million over the 2018 allocation, but nearly half of that is for finance department salaries the town took over last year. The town manager decided to return those salary costs to the school department for FY2019, leaving an actual appropriation increase of around $600,000. The School Committee’s budget request in April called for a $1.3 million budget increase.

“It could have been better, but it could have been worse,” said School Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Mark about the Town Council’s budget Sunday. “I went into this budget process concerned we would be essentially level funded. We did better than that but we are still not fully funding the needs of the schools.”

Mark expressed surprise that the council decided to use $1 million of the town’s surplus (or rainy day fund) to balance the budget. The budget they passed was essentially flat, meaning no real tax increase, although because of a property revaluation this past year, property owners could see a tax rate increase, decrease or no change, depending on how their property valuation changed.

What it means for the School Committee, however, is the need to come up with some cuts. Mark said the ultimate decisions are up to the committee as a whole, but that she thought the school nurse and high school librarian positions would be funded as would the director of teaching and learning (i.e. curriculum director), a new position.

More retirements than anticipated will give the district an estimated $120,000 in savings – retiring teachers are typically at the top salary step while new hires are usually in the third step range.

Mark said she hoped athletics would not need to be touched but cuts to athletics were on the table at earlier School Committee meetings.

Also on the agenda, which can be found here, are updates on the town-school consolidation and moving and the gym ceiling at Eldredge, as well as the Cole Middle School schedule. The panel will meet in the cafetorium at Cole Middle School at 7 p.m.