Annual Town Meeting: School Articles


School expenditures account for roughly 50% of Manchester’s total operating budgets.  

This is typical for a community with percentages running even higher in some municipalities.  To be sure, education is an important and expensive proposition.  

At the April 24 Manchester Annual Town Meeting, voters will be asked to approve the School District’s operating and capital budgets, as well as two special appropriations, one for the last portion of Manchester’s share of the refurbished turf fields, and its share of the soon to be launched Feasibility Study for renovating or building a new Essex Elementary School.  Voters also need to approve the
Town’s contribution to the Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School District.

The Technical School serves seventeen communities in our area.  Thirteen students from Manchester attend the District.  The District has proven to be very popular since a new facility was constructed a few years ago, with demand outpacing available space and it is providing an important learning experience for the students who attend.  Both the Finance Committee and the Select Board recommend voters approve the Town’s share of $243,385, which is a slight decrease from this year’s amount.

The MERSD operating budget is proposed to increase a total of 2.9%.  The District typically needs an increase in the 3-3.5% range to maintain current programming.  Essex and Manchester share the cost of the District based on an apportionment formula contained in the District agreement that takes into account three factors: town population, student enrollment, and the total value of all properties in each town.  Roughly speaking, this translates to Manchester paying two thirds and Essex paying one third.  

However, yearly increases can—and do—vary between the two towns, depending on the changes in the three factors.  Because Manchester student enrollment has been declining over the last few years with Essex growing very slightly, Essex is seeing a bigger percentage increase in their annual apportionment.  A half dozen years ago or so, the reverse was true and Manchester was seeing larger annual percentage increases.  For next year, the 2.9% District increase translates through the apportionment formula to require a 4.82% increase for Essex and a 1.84% increase for Manchester.  Manchester’s share for FY25 is slated to be $16.3 million.  

Again, both the Finance Committee and Select Board recommend approval of the proposed budget. 

Last year, Essex failed to pass an override to pay for a similarly high increase and the District responded by proposing a lower spending total and drawing on more reserves.  This lower budget was approved at subsequent town meetings for both towns.  This year, Essex feels they can pay their proposed apportionment without seeking an override through the use of higher than typical taxes from new development and shifting some dollars from town to school expenditures. 

However, the long-term challenges remain especially if enrollment patterns continue to shift toward Essex.  Anytime either town faces a District apportionment increase above 3.5% it stresses the available resources derived from the normal 2.5% tax increase limit imposed by Proposition 2 ½ and any new taxation from new development.  While there have been suggestions to revisit the District apportionment formula to try to avoid the wide differences in annual increases, no concrete recommendations for how best to do this have emerged. 

The capital budget for the District covers the debt payments for the previously approved borrowings to pay for the Middle-High School and the Memorial School.  Manchester’s share is $2.7 million and it is declining yearly as the total borrowed is gradually paid off.  A separate vote seeks approval for the last portion of Manchester’s share of the turf filed refurbishment projects – a final $248,348.  The Finance Committee and the Select Board recommend approval of both amounts.

The last school-related article pertains to paying for a Feasibility Study for the Essex Elementary School.  This is the last of the big school building projects facing the District for the foreseeable future.  The District was recently accepted into the state school building program to address the deficiencies of the 1950s-era school in Essex.  A Feasibility Study is the first step in a multi-year process to determine the best course of action- consolidate, renovate in place, build new either in the same location or on a different site. 

The Finance Committee and the Select Board recommend that voters approve $660,000 as Manchester’s share of the cost for the Feasibility Study through a one-time cash “capital exclusion” vote both at the Town Meeting and also at the ballot.  (A capital exclusion means the tax rate needed to raise the funds is outside the limits of Proposition 2 ½.)