PITTSFIELD — Voters in Burnham, Detroit and Pittsfield are facing a property tax increase when they consider the $10.14 million School Administrative District 53 budget Thursday night.

The budget for the upcoming school year is 2.46 percent higher than the current one; and if passed by voters, annual property taxes on a $100,000 home in Burnham would rise about $99, in Detroit about $118 and in Pittsfield about $62.

Voters will have an opportunity to comment and ask questions before they vote on the 16-article warrant at the 6:30 p.m. meeting in Warsaw Middle School in Pittsfield.

If approved Thursday, the budget faces a second step in the approval process during referendum voting on Tuesday, June 12, the same day as the statewide primary.

The district will be losing $395,000 in federal stimulus funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, but is recouping some of the loss through attrition, retirements, a lower mileage rate for its contracted bus service and energy upgrades for the school buildings.

The new budget includes the addition of a third-grade teaching position, restoration of an assistant principal at both the pre-kindergarten through fourth-grade and middle school levels, and additional 15 hours per week to a maintenance position and upgrading the elementary guidance position from a two day per week job to full time.

One item that won’t be on the warrant is a proposal to set up a reserve account for professional development for the new Expeditionary Learning program at Warsaw Middle School next year.

Although the school board approved the $50,000 start-up cost, Superintendent Michael Gallagher has since discovered that a reserve account for professional development can’t be established.

“Unfortunately, the law prohibits it. But the board has voted to spend $25,000 from the current budget and I’m sure we’ll be able to fund the program next year. We usually wind up with an undesignated fund balance, anyhow,” Gallagher said.

Warsaw Middle School Principal Kristen Gilbert is a strong proponent of the Expeditionary Learning program, which uses more hands-on training and projects and creates displays, reports and artwork based on what they’ve learned.

In Portland, King Middle School Principal Michael McCarthy said that the school was one of the first pilot schools to start the program in 1992.

“We had a lot of problems back then — violence on the school grounds, low test scores and things like that. So we had to change the whole culture of the school from one of discouragement to encouragement,” he said.

Curtis said that his school now exceeds the state average on all New England Common Assessment programs “even though we have kids — many from refugee families — speaking 31 different languages in our school.”

Curtis added that the teaching staff concedes that expeditionary learning “might be more work, but it’s less stressful. Parents come in and watch their kids make these presentations, and they’re amazed. Some told me that they were juniors in college before they could do that.”


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