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GROTON — School officials argued in favor of $2.7 million in new spending requests in the fiscal year 2008 Groton-Dunstable Regional School District operating budget during a special public hearing last Wednesday night.

The hearing took place within the regularly scheduled School Committee meeting as part of the budget formulation process.

As presented Wednesday night, the proposed school budget for 2008 stood at $30.7 million, or an increase of nearly 10 percent over last year’s budget of $27.9 million.

However, if the district’s debt service payments were included in the budget, the grand total for the coming fiscal year would be $35.9 million.

Acknowledging that some expenses driving the budget increases were unavoidable, town officials were still wary of a 10 percent hike in new spending and predicted that the increase would be trimmed before the review process was concluded.

Among the items driving the steep increase in spending for 2008 are salaries, utilities and technology, but what drew the concern of town officials and residents attending Wednesday’s hearing were requests for new employees and spending on athletics.

In a presentation to the score of residents who attended the hearing, Superintendent of Schools Alan Genovese outlined the district’s goals of developing the “whole student,” retaining staff, and maintaining facilities.

Following Genovese, other school administrators stepped forward to explain the need to hire more teachers.

Citing an expected increase in student enrollment, Principal Joseph Dillon warned that if two new high school teachers were not approved, class sizes could zoom from a current 21 students per teacher to 25 and that art, advanced placement courses, and even MCAS prep classes could be cut from the curriculum.

Following Dillon, Middle School Principal Beth Raucci explained the need for hiring special education and math teachers for the mid-level grades.

In addition to personnel, school officials also asked that the district establish a long-range plan to replace all of its computers, including machines purchased brand new only four years ago when the new high school was furnished.

Also on the district’s list of new hires are an assistant network manager for technology and guidance positions.

Finally, the district is seeking increases in spending for athletics, to include funding for a new startup football program.

Among the variety of concerns expressed about the budget, the planned football program drew the most attention. Some argued the football program would be an unnecessary expense at a time when funds are tight, while supporters of the program, including members of the booster club, spoke in favor and even pledged $10,000 in startup money.

School officials are expected to take the comments made at Wednesday’s public hearing into account when they continue their budget deliberations next week.

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