BRUNSWICK — Town Council asked the School Department to continue to cut its operating budget for the upcoming school year during its meeting on Monday night.

Council said the total tax increase to the taxpayer should be around 3 percent—and nothing more—including the municipal and school department budgets. Based on that figure, the School Department increase can’t be more than 1.8 percent.

Superintendent Paul Perzanoski said that red line means the department needs to cut more than $800,000 from the budget it proposed earlier this year.

The department proposed a budget of $38,895,275, an increase of more than $1 million over last year, or about 2.7 percent. When factoring in a loss of non-local revenue and the state-defined local required contribution, the district is asking for about $1.66 million more than last year, or 3.74 percent.

Councilor Jane Millett said the Council has to be more responsible to the public. She said Brunswick is understaffed in its police and fire departments, and she said department heads and municipal mangers haven’t had raises in years.

“There comes a point where the town just has to stop and catch up,” Millett said.

The School Department is receiving more than $300,000 less in state and federal funding and not having that money was something Councilor Chris Watkinson didn’t consider when he first analyzed the department’s budget.

“There’s something going on that we as a municipality cannot solve simply by cutting,” he said.

School Board finance committee chairman Ben Tucker — in an interview last week — said the board works very hard to reduce costs and cut anything it can from the budget, but there comes a point where there’s nothing left to cut.

“What’s tough is that our schools have a lot of needs that we just can’t fund,” Tucker said. “For years, we’ve put off funding certain positions and doing maintenance, and it’s hard to decide what to prioritize.”

Last year’s $37.9 million school budget was up 0.49 percent over the previous year, and over the last 10 years, the budget has averaged a 1.49 percent increase, or about $514,000 per year.

Councilor Steve Walker said he thought the school department has been unfairly criticized, and he said it isn’t fair that the district continues to see cut after cut. If it was only his decision, Walker said he’d give more money to the schools than to the municipality.

“I don’t think the school department has been irresponsible with money,” Walker said.

It is not immediately clear if there’s anything else the department can or is willing to cut from the budget to meet the Council’s mandate. The School Department budget will go to the voters in a referendum validation on June 12.

Tucker said in order to retain the highly-qualified and successful teachers Brunswick has on staff, it has to pay a competitive wage or those teachers will find a different district to work in.

“We’ve got to pay teachers better than we do now, because we see the teachers (in other states) going on strike because they’re so desperate,” Tucker said. “Teachers don’t get paid enough for what they do. That’s a global issue.

“Teachers are what make the district, and we’ve got to hire the best teachers that we can, and that’s the unanimous attitude of the whole school board,” he said.

Tucker also said the salaries of town staff doesn’t have anything to do with the school department, its budget or the salaries of administrators and teachers, and he isn’t sure why that continues to be brought up.

The Council also discussed the municipal budget.

Eldridge proposed a spending plan of $24,363,307, an increase of $933,591 over last year, or 3.98 percent. The town originally proposed spending $25,353,412, but cuts in certain line items brought that number down.

“The town manager did a pretty good job staying within the limits we set,” Councilor Kathy Wilson said. “I don’t think we can keep hitting the tax payers.”

Wilson later apologized to the school department staff and board members in attendance after she said the town needs to “tighten its belt.”

In other business, the council approved an additional 180-day moratorium on recreational marijuana retail stores and social clubs and it approved an increase in the price of town trash bags.