Superintendent Gary Maestas unveiled on Monday a $97.4 million operating budget proposal for the coming school year that reflects a 3.4 percent increase over current spending. The overall budget would top $121 million.
PLYMOUTH – After opening the town’s second new high school in five years, local school officials are not planning any major projects for the coming school year.
But just maintaining existing programs for the district’s nearly 8,000 students will cost more than ever.
Superintendent Gary Maestas unveiled on Monday a $97.4 million operating budget proposal for the coming school year that reflects a 3.4 percent increase over current spending.
The “level services” budget is $3.2 million more than this year’s operating budget. The increase is driven by salaries and contracted services.
Salaries account for nearly 80 percent of spending and include increases for employees that were part of contracts approved two years ago. Increases from new school bus contracts and for out-of-district placement of special education students fueled the increase in contracted services.
Maestas unveiled the proposal Monday night in a budget meeting attended by members of the Advisory and Finance Committee. School officials will meet with the full committee in the coming weeks to examine the budget in greater detail.
The public will get its chance to comment on the proposal later this month at a public hearing slated for 7 p.m., Monday, Dec. 18, at Plymouth Community Intermediate School. The School Committee is expected to vote on the proposal after the hearing.
Maestas said school officials met with the town manager, selectmen and finance board members in September to map out a plan for the coming year.
“The whole idea was to keep programs intact with the same level of service. The goal was to not insert anything new,” Maestas said.
He said the district decided to limit spending to existing services based in part on two factors: the opening of the new Plymouth South High School and the anticipated cost of repairs to the town’s sewer system.
The new school opened in September, five years after the opening of the new Plymouth North High School. The town’s force sewer main, meanwhile, collapsed in late 2015, requiring costly repairs that selectmen are expected to address in their budget proposal.
School principals and department heads appeared before the School Committee Monday to explain their limited spending plans. Plymouth South High School Principal James Hanna had little to defend. “Obviously, with such a beautiful building, we are not coming here asking for anything,” Hanna said.
In addition to opening a new school, the district is fresh off last year’s opening of full-day kindergarten in local elementary schools.
Maestas identified several current and future needs not addressed in the budget.
Currently 92 students in the district have been identified as needing help speaking English. There are probably twice as many who once needed assistance.
As the number of local students who do not speak English increases, more English learner teachers are needed. The district could use at least two more EL teachers, Maestas said. The district would also like to expand it health education programs in elementary school and offer more mental health support for students throughout the district.
Student mental health is the biggest issue in the region and the state, Maestas said, and seems to be reaching an epic crisis.
The district would eventually like to upgrade technology and replace some school roofs. At some point, the district would like to provide students with one-to-one access to technology. That plan could ultimately include allowing students to take their own devices to schools.
With the cost of employee health and insurance programs, the overall school budget tops $121 million.