School officials unveil $44.2 million budget proposal

Feb 12, 2019

With money tight and fiscal uncertainties still in the air, Dartmouth schools’ proposed 2020 budget includes few frills.

At the Feb. 11 School Committee meeting, district officials presented the $44.2 million budget draft, up 2.7 percent from last year, for the first time. 

“It’s never an easy process, as you know,” said Superintendent Bonny Gifford. “The resources are limited, if you will, but we try very hard to look at what things we might be able to do without or reallocate resources to better serve the district and all of our students.”

Most of the new items on the budget are new staff, including three full-time teachers: A high school technology integration specialist, and a first grade and special education teacher for Quinn Elementary School.

Gifford said the new high school position would help teachers use technology in the classroom to every school — a major goal for the district. All other schools already have an in-house technology specialist.

The new teachers at Quinn will alleviate concerns with first grade class sizes and address students’ social and emotional needs. Quinn is where many of the district’s special education programs are.

“The need for increased staff [at Quinn] has become clear with the number of students in particular who are moving in from are kindergarten classes, which were actually very large this year,” Gifford said.

The other new full-time position is an applied behavior analyst. Several half-time positions would also be created, including a reading specialist at DeMello Elementary and a wellness teacher at Dartmouth High.

The budget will reallocate several positions. A teacher position from DeMello would be moved to Quinn, while an ELA coach retirement would not be filled.

An open art teacher position at the high school, created by a retirement, would not be filled.

“Students won’t lose any choices, they’ll just have a shorter time with that particular class,” Gifford said. “It was a priority area to do this to bring on the technology specialist to serve the entire school.”

The budget is divided into five areas. The largest chunk of funding, $33.1 million, is in instruction, which covers teacher and staff salaries, school supplies and technology, and other classroom-related expenses, and is up 2.6 percent from last year.

“All of our collective bargaining agreements are coming up and they’re all expiring at the end of this school year, so we’ll be negotiating with staff,” said School Business Manager James Kiely. “That’s something we have in the works.”

Administration costs for district officials would increase to $1.15 million, up 1.6 percent, driven by contractual obligations. Maintenance and utilities would fall by $9,554 to $3.5 million due to cost-saving maintenance efforts by the district’s facilities staff.

“Other services” would go up 4.5 percent to $4.8 million, driven primarily by rising transportation costs. Tuitions would go up up 7.1 percent to $1.5 million, with the largest increase caused by out-of-district special education tuition payments.

With limited funding, more than $650,000 in requests from school administrators were left unfunded. 

The budget is still in the planning stages. The next step is to hold a public budget hearing for the public to weigh in on the proposal. It will be held at the March 18 School Committee meeting.