Officials project large school choice increase for Wareham

Feb 7, 2018

Wareham’s budget for fiscal year 2019 is $64 million, up $2 million from the previous year, but more than half of the new revenue might pay for local students attending school elsewhere, Town Administrator Derek Sullivan said Tuesday.

Speaking before Selectmen, Sullivan presented a first look at the town's total budget. 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 an large projected increase in school choice tuition.

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

Six years ago, Wareham paid $367,473 for school choice tuition. For fiscal year 2019, the state is projecting that number to be $3,067,567, up $764,437 from the previous year's $2,303,130 tuition. The town owes the state an additional $451,348 for other school choice expenses. The school choice number does not include funds allocated for Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical High School.

“We’ll be spending almost $1.1 million on education, sending kids to other locations,” said Sullivan. “More than half of our new revenue is going to other areas.”

However, school officials said the state’s projection is higher than what they expect to pay in school choice tuition.

Superintendent Dr. Kimberly Shaver-Hood said a new charter school will soon be opening in Plymouth. Because of that, the state is projecting that 43 additional students will opt out of the district for school choice.

Shaver-Hood said that likely won’t be the case.

“If all the students the state projects to attend then yes, the district will be assessed $3 million for school choice,” said Shaver-Hood. “We don’t believe that many students will be attending.”

Instead, Shaver-Hood said the actual school choice tuition figure will be closer to $2.5 million. That number won’t be known until later in the year, she said.

Selectmen Chair Peter Teitelbaum said school officials have some work ahead of them, regardless.

“Their job going forward is student retention,” said Teitelbaum.

As part of Sullivan's budget break down, he noted that of the $62 million, 54 percent is spent on Wareham Public Schools and Upper Cape Cod Technical Regional High School. General government spending, meaning services such as police and Municipal Maintenance, accounts for 19 percent of the budget. Another 20 percent of the total budget will be spent on employee benefits. The remaining amount is split between health insurance costs for retired teachers, other state bills and workers’ compensation insurance.

In Sullivan’s draft budget, $28 million is allocated for the school district with another $3 million for Upper Cape Cod Technical Regional High School.

Recently, the School Committee approved a district budget of $29,413,679, up 3.6 percent from last year. School and town officials will spend the next couple months reconciling those figures.

Ultimately, voters at the April 23 Town Meeting will be asked to approve a final budget.

“It is what it is,” said Teitelbaum. “We can’t spend what we don’t have.”