School budget proposal calls for 5.1% spending increase

Feb 14, 2023

The Dartmouth School Committee heard a proposal on Monday, Feb. 13 for the district’s fiscal year 2024 budget that would see spending rise by 5.1% over the previous year.

The increase amounts to more than $2.5 million in additional funding, however, committee members emphasized that it was the bare minimum the district would need to keep up with its obligations.

New spending would go to hiring an additional English Language Learner (ELL) teacher, a new Pre-K teacher and two new teaching assistants, and a part-time physical therapist — all positions the committee said would be needed to fulfill its obligation to provide education to the community.

Meanwhile, the list of requests that could not be funded was considerable, and pointed to an even more difficult road ahead for the fiscal year 2025 budget.

One of the top priorities that will not be included in next year’s budget is permanent funding for 16 positions that are currently being paid for — at least in part — with money from the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, a pandemic-era fund that will be depleted by next year.

“We’re going to have a serious, significant problem for fiscal year 2025,” said committee member Chris Oliver.

Other unfunded requests included additional teachers, teaching assistants, behavioral specialists, and other positions, as well as supplies for the majority of the town’s schools.

“These are not wish-list items; these are things that would make a difference,” said Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations James Kiely. “We wish we had them, we really need them, but at this point they are not incorporated into the budget.”

Even with those important requests excluded from the budget, the 5.1% proposed funding increase will be tricky for the town to accommodate, as the state’s Proposition 2 ½ limits municipal budget increases to 2.5% year-over-year.

That means the Select Board will have to carve out additional room in the town’s budget to fund even the school district’s most conservative proposal.

Still, school officials were optimistic that they would be able to win support for their proposal.

“We’ve gotten great support in the past. We hope we can count on it again,” Kiely said. “We certainly need it.”

The budget proposal will now need to be reviewed by the town’s Finance Committee and Select Board as part of the larger town budget before being voted on at this year’s Spring Town Meeting.