Officials seek ways to bridge school funding gap

Apr 25, 2023

Town officials will look at ways to bridge the half-million dollar gap between The School Committee’s proposed budget and the town’s allocation and present the plan at a future select board meeting.

At a joint meeting of the School Committee, Select Board and Finance Committee Monday, April 24, Town Administrator Shawn MacInnes, Director of Budget and Finance Gary Carreiro and Interim Superintendent James Kiely were asked to find options to reconcile the $588,508 between the two numbers.

Officials asked that a draft of the plan be available by the May 8 Select Board meeting. 

A separate subcommittee with members from the three committees will look at the anticipated school budget issues for next year and beyond.

One factor, interim superintendent Kiely said, was the state funding formula provides less money for Dartmouth than other communities. “The argument they’ve made is they need to divert money to those who need it most,’’ he said of the state. “And they just don’t think that we’re one that needs it.’’ 

Select board member Stanley Mickelson suggested inviting legislators to a meeting to discuss these concerns. 

“We need to get state representatives to our meeting and find out why we’re not getting the money we need,’’ he said.

Another financial concern brought up at the meeting is the increasing cost of transportation mainly for special education, homeless and foster care students, made mandatory by the state. 

“We are providing direct services to thousands of students and we have a number of state [and] local responsibilities that we need to take care of,” said Christopher Oliver, vice chair of the School Committee, in reference to the transportation fees. “These are Dartmouth students that we need to take care of. We have a moral and legal obligation to take care of these students.”

Some members of the Finance Committee felt that since the state doles out high-price mandates they should pay for them, however, it was pointed out that state funding is a long-term solution that may never be achieved. 

Raising taxes to cover costs was met with concern.

“The biggest number of town employees live right here in the town, so when we’re talking about increasing taxes, doing an override, we’re talking about hitting them in both directions,” said Heidi Silva Brooks, member of the Select Board. “Give you more money through [these] contractual services, but in order to do so we’re going to need an override. So now we’ve given it and we’ve taken it.”

The town has traditionally rejected Proposition 2 ½ overrides, which allow an increase in the town levy limit and require higher taxes, select board member Shawn McDonald said. He described the issue as “the big gorilla in the room’’ as a potential funding source. 

There was no disagreement in the meeting that the schools are important to the quality of the town and as a service for the community and maintaining that would require appropriate compensation for employees.  

“In a town like this, where there is a lot of revenue that's created and there’s value in the properties here, and school districts always drive that, [we're] struggling to pay our bills,” said Jasmine Olean, a fifth-grade teacher in town and negotiations chair for the Dartmouth Educators Association. 

This idea was echoed by School Committee members in the meeting. 

“This isn’t a school department problem, this is a town problem,’’ Oliver said. “The school department directly affects the most number of residents in this town.’’