Budget presentation shows increase in school choice for Wareham

Feb 19, 2019

Wareham’s anticipated budget for fiscal year 2020 is $66 million, up $2 million from the previous year; but close to half of that increase is paying for local students attending school elsewhere, according to Town Administrator Derek Sullivan.

Speaking before Selectmen on Tuesday night, Sullivan presented a first look at the town's total budget which will go before voters at Spring Town Meeting.

The new revenue comes from an annual 2.5 percent tax increase, municipal fees and state aid. However, much of that will pay for fixed costs, such as health insurance, and a large projected increase in “school choice” tuition.

School choice is a state program that allows students to attend schools in out-of-town districts. For each student who leaves, a district must pay up to $5,000 to the student’s new school.

Seven years ago, Wareham paid $367,473 for school choice tuition. For fiscal year 2020, the state is projecting that number to be $3,041,506.

This amount falls in line with state estimates from 2018 that projected school choice tuition in Wareham to be $3,067,567 by fiscal year 2020.

Tuition to Upper Cape Cod Technical Regional School, which is a separate line item, comes out to another $3,670,385, Sullivan said.

As part of the budget breakdown, Sullivan noted that of the $66 million, 50 percent is spent on education. Public works spending, meaning services such as Municipal Maintenance, accounts for 4 percent of the budget.

“That’s 50 cents on every dollar going towards education,” Sullivan said.  

In December, the School Committee approved a district budget of $29,262,246, up 1.5 percent from last year. 

“We’re pigeonholed,” said Selectman Patrick Tropeano in response to Sullivan’s presentation. “Our schools have been stuck with a reputation, and we need to start talking to parents about how we can get them back.”

Ultimately, voters at the April 22 Town Meeting will be asked to approve a final budget for the town.