First draft of Portsmouth school budget shows 3.5-percent hike

School Committee to vote on final version March 10

By Kristen Ray
Posted 2/12/20

PORTSMOUTH — The School Committee could be looking to approve a 3.5-percent operating budget increase in fiscal year 2021, a first draft of the numbers suggested during Tuesday …

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First draft of Portsmouth school budget shows 3.5-percent hike

School Committee to vote on final version March 10

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — The School Committee could be looking to approve a 3.5-percent operating budget increase in fiscal year 2021, a first draft of the numbers suggested during Tuesday night’s meeting.

Up $1.4 million from last year, the $40,985,645 estimated budget for the 2020-21 school year took into account a variety of different factors, according to Superintendent Thomas Kenworthy and Director of Finance and Administration Chris Diluro told the committee.

There has been an increase in out-of-district tuition and statewide transportation costs, a higher number of workers’ compensation claims, a need to add a human resources position, over a handful of confirmed retirements, and the elimination of a sixth-grade teacher. 

Yet that budget growth still did not address what Mr. Kenworthy referred to as “unmet priorities” for the upcoming school year, including $25,000 in additional cybersecurity software, additional intervention support at Hathaway Elementary and the middle school, and additional teaching positions at the high school (such as a child development instructor). 

Those unmet priorities, Mr. Kenworthy estimated, totaled around $500,000. 

As the budget continues to evolve in the coming weeks, Mr. Kenworthy said, there are some unresolved factors that could influence its final number, such as a possible change in the high school schedule, continuing discussions over field trip fees, and contract negotiations with NEA Portsmouth.

Should during that time the district achieve any of its unmet priorities related to personnel, Mr. Kenworthy warned, it very well could mean reducing staff in other areas. 

The district will need to make “some tough budget decisions” this year, Mr. Kenworthy said. 

A second draft of the operating budget will be read at the committee’s Feb. 25 meeting. A final version will be approved on March 10 before it’s sent to the Town Council for review.

Members react

For some on the school committee, those initial numbers sitting in front of them were less than optimistic. For Allen Shers, it was frustrating to see Portsmouth students “losing out” over things the district has no control over, like state aid being down 5.2 percent from last year. 

“I don’t see a smile on anybody’s face,” he said. 

Yet for Chairwoman Emily Copeland, there were a few “bright spots” in the preliminary budget, including low benefits growth and tuition collection through the high school’s career and technical education programs.

“You’ve given us a lot of … food for thought,” she said.

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