Financial compromise reached but future concerns remain

May 11, 2023

Municipal and school officials reached an agreement to fund next year’s school budget but have warned this one-time fix will not solve an ongoing problem.

The schools had proposed a budget of $2,126,606, which was $588,508 more than the town’s recommendation of $1,538,098. 

When school officials said that their budget could not be cut further, the town financial department “sharpened our pencils’’ and was able to cut that exact amount from short-term borrowing costs, Town Administrator Shawn MacInness said at a May 8 select board meeting. 

The funds will be taken out of short-term borrowing, which MacInness said could be held off until next year. 

“We’re taking a bit of a risk,’’ he said. “But we think this is a way for us to bridge the gap.’’

The compromise will allow the school district to present their final requested budget of $2,126,606 to Town Meeting voters. 

But financial challenges remain on the horizon, officials said.

After Town Meeting, officials “really need to get together’’ to “address this trend,’’ said Finance Director Gary Carreiro. 

State aid to Dartmouth has been “flat,’’ Carreiro said, and proceeds need to pick up. “We need to look at revenues, expenses and everything that goes into the budget.’’

Among the financial issues is the still unresolved teacher contract. The latest contract expired in August and negotiations continue. 

As they have at many recent select board and school committee meetings, members of the Dartmouth Educators Association filled much of the room, most holding signs urging a fair contract. 

Heather Noyes Fredette, who said she is speaking as a Dartmouth Educators Association member, parent and taxpayer, described the work that happens in the town’s classrooms as “magical.’’

“Not fully funding’’ educators “will change the fabric of how we work with these kids.’’

Select board member Heidi Silva Brooks encouraged the formation of a subcommittee to look closely at the town’s fiscal situation.

“We’re up against it, and we know we’re up against it,’’ she said.

Town residents, whether they vote or not, need to decide what the community’s financial priorities should be, select board member Shawn McDonald said.

The budget for 2025 “is going to be more difficult,’’ he said. 

“We have an ancient bridge that needs to be fixed. We have a water system that needs to be corrected. We have functions the town should be providing instead of private groups’’ such as the Dartmouth Youth Athletic Association, Dartmouth Youth Lacrosse and other organizations that provide private sports activities. “Other towns do it, why not Dartmouth?’’

Carreiro supported the formation of a working group to look well down the road at the town’s financial picture. One possible subject of discussion, he said, is to “test the appetite’’ for an eventual override which would allow the town to spend more. 

This group, he said, could help determine “what does Dartmouth want, not just in 2025’’ but looking out into “the next ten years.’’