Concord school leaders propose $81.8M budget, 2 percent tax increase

Monitor staff
Thursday, February 01, 2018

For a 2 percent bump in the tax rate, Concord’s schools could expand to full-day kindergarten next year.

That’s according to the $81.79 million general fund budget proposal presented to the school board Wednesday, when district leaders unveiled a first draft of their spending plan.

The general fund budget for next fiscal year is $1.79 million more than this year’s budget, representing a 2.23 percent increase.

Expanding from a half-day kindergarten program to a full-day one would cost an extra $1.1 million, according to district estimates. That would cover 7½ new full-time kindergarten teachers, an itinerant teacher, three program assistants, seven special education assistants and supplies.

Since the Legislature last year approved $1,100 per child in additional funding for full-day kindergarten, part of that cost would be defrayed by state dollars. Based on enrollment projections, the district estimates $330,000 in extra revenue if it begins offering a full-day program.

Despite a strong push from advocacy groups and many in the community, the school board last year opted to hold off on moving to a full-day program. Jack Dunn, the district’s business administrator, went over differences in the schools’ finances today versus last year, when the district was scrambling to pay for a rushed conversion to natural gas and contending with increased state retirement and health care rates, among other things.

“When you look at those items, you’re looking at you needed $2.6 million more last year – this year you need $125,000 more. Big, big difference,” Dunn said. “We want people to understand what you were up against, and the challenges you had.”

The proposed budget includes changes to teaching and support staff. To right-size as enrollments continue to decline at a rate of about 1 percent a year, administrators suggested cutting two teachers at Broken Ground Elementary School, one teacher at Christa McAuliffe elementary, two teachers at Rundlett Middle, and two teachers at Concord High.

The budget adds a cultural liaison to work with English language learners and their families. And as federal funding is phased out, it includes more money to pay for a counselor at the high school, one early childhood educator and two family engagement educators. The proposed budget would spend a total of $456,457 more on staffing next year.

All told, the proposed budget would require $57.9 million to be raised by taxes – $1.4 million more than this year. The estimated impact on the tax rate would be an additional 31 cents; assuming valuations stay the same, that would mean an increase of 2 percent. A homeowner with a $250,000 property could expect to pay an extra $78.

Betty Hoadley, a former school board member, was the lone member of the public to speak. A frequent commentator on district matters, Hoadley had urged the board strongly against adopting full-day kindergarten last year. But this time around, she said the estimated tax impact had taken her by surprise.

“Did you notice I had to reach over and get my eyes off the floor, pick them up and put them back in again? Because it was not the number I was expecting. Nice job. Nice job,” Hoadley said.

The school board will continue budget discussions through the next two months, with their next scheduled budget work session to look at salaries and benefits, scheduled for Feb. 7.

Two public hearings are scheduled for March 7 and 12. A final vote by the board is slated for March 19. Budget documents are available online at sau8.org/school_board/budgets.

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)