In Grantham, More Sought for Schools

Grantham School District meeting will be held on Tuesday, March 4, at 6:30 p.m., in the Grantham Village School gymnasium. Town Meeting will be held on Tuesday, March 11, at 5 p.m. in the Grantham Town Hall to act on the warning articles. Voting by ballot will be held from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on March 11 to elect town and school officers.

Grantham — A new plow truck is driving the slight uptick in the town’s budget while an increase in the number of secondary-school students and rising special education and insurance costs help make up the more than 6 percent jump in the proposed Grantham School District budget.

For the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1, the proposed town budget and the proposed warrant articles total $3.1 million, up $65,364 or 2 percent, from the current budget, said Town Administrator Melissa White.

“This year we’re looking at leasing a plow truck and that’s the biggest increase,” White said. “The lease payment after trade-in is $32,031.” The increased spending also includes $10,000 to take inventory of Grantham’s culverts in an effort to identify any weak or damaged areas that could worsen during large storms.

The combined increases would add a little more than 10 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to the town’s tax rate, raising it to approximately $21.54 and $23.02 for the Village District of Eastman, from $21.44 and $22.92 respectively.

On a home assessed at $250,000, the increase would amount to about $25 more per year in taxes.

Also on the town warning is a request for $2,000 to establish a Town Clerk/Tax Collector Equipment Capital Reserve Fund for the purpose of equipment needs and an article that allows the Selectboard to dispose of any acquired properties by tax deed, through sealed bids and auctions.

The proposed school budget is up $509,339 from $7.9 million to more than $8.4 million, or about a 6.4 percent increase, said SAU 75 Superintendent Jacqueline Guillette.

The budget covers the funding and expenses for Grantham’s school system which includes K-6 students at the Grantham Village school and tuition for students through an agreement with the Lebanon School District for grades 7-12.

“Under the AREA agreement we have a fixed tuition rate which is quite favorable to us and really isn’t going up at all, but we just literally have more students at the middle and high school level from this budget year what was approved to what we’re proposing in next year’s budget,” she said.

The per-student tuition under the AREA agreement at the middle school level is going down next year, from $15,551 to $15,548 as is the high school tuition from $13,996 to $13,994. But the number of students is increasing at the middle school level from 70 students to a projected 77. As a result, the net increase is about $110,000, which Guillette said Grantham school officials have no control over.

“So that’s one big driver, (it’s) 20 percent of the $500,000 increase,” she said.

Another factor in the increase is health insurance costs, which Guillette said amounts to $96,347.

“It turns out that we are in a newly created risk pool for districts with fewer than 50 employees,” Guillette said. “So if we had 50 people and above, our rate would have only increased by about 7 percent. Instead, our rate increase is pushing 11 percent. Fewer people spread the risk. …In our community, that’s just a huge hit on a budget.”

Another factor, is special education costs, which is going up $174,000 in the proposed budget.

“That is almost entirely because of out-of-district placements,” Guillette said.

Every school district is obligated to provide an equitable education for every student in the district. For special education students that means if the resources within the district cannot meet their needs, the district has to pay to transport and educate them outside of the district. This can cost anywhere from $75,000 to $100,000 per student. Transportation can cost almost as much, Guillette said.

“We started the school year with one out-of-district placement. We almost immediately after the school year started had a student and family move into our district who was already in an out-of-district placement,” Guillette said. “So I had to project that forward into next year’s budget. And we have a third student who ... could end up in an out of district placement by the end of the next school year.”

Further, about $69,000 of contracted salary and benefit increases, new positions and staffing supplies round out the much of the remainder of the increase.

If the budget passes, the result would be a tax increase of about $1.13 per $1,000 of assessed value, raising the school tax rate from $14.64 to $15.77, Guillette said.

For a home valued at $250,000, the increase would mean an additional $282 a year in school taxes.

Also on the school district warning are special articles asking for $50,000 for the Grantham Village School Special Education Expendable Trust Fund and $50,000 to establish a “legal services expendable trust fund” for the purpose of funding extraordinary legal expenses. Guillette said the legal trust fund is not the result of any current or known future legal action. If both of these items pass, it would add 20 cents to the tax rate.

“It’s just being prudent,” she said.

There are no contested races in the either the school district or town this year.