AUGUSTA — The proposed $26.7 million school budget would require $620,000 more from property taxpayers, which school officials say is the same amount they’re being required to pick up under a cost-shift from the state.
Otherwise, the Augusta school budget would be flat and not require a local tax increase, school officials say.
Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed budget would shift more of the responsibility for the cost of teacher retirement pensions from the state to individual school systems. State Department of Education officials have said that would be a more equitable way of distributing teacher retirement costs.
For Augusta, the additional pension costs, when combined with the $168,000 curtailment in state funding ordered after last year’s budget was approved, could leave city property taxpayers responsible for an additional $620,000 in the school budget.
“Without the governor’s push for us to pick up additional responsibilities, we’d be asking for flat funding” from local property taxpayers, said James Anastasio, interim superintendent.
School officials are seeking public input on the budget at a meeting tonight at 6:30 p.m. in the cafeteria at the Capital Area Technical Center. The public input session will be followed by a board workshop to finalize the budget, and if no major changes are made, the budget could go to board members for approval as soon as Wednesday. The Augusta City Charter requires the school budget to be delivered to the city by April 1.
The budget first proposed by Anastasio and school principals was $27.1 million, $824,000 higher than last year’s budget.
At a budget workshop last Wednesday, however, Anastasio proposed to board members $397,000 in cuts, including $75,000 to be saved by not filling a vacant director of technology position, $50,000 by not filling a proposed central office bookkeeper position, $185,000 in renovations to Capital Area Technical Center that will instead by included in a lease purchase plan, and $41,000 in not filling a proposed new grade seven teaching position officials now don’t believe is needed.
The cuts also include $12,000 initially budgeted to move the superintendent’s office out of Hussey Elementary School, which had been proposed as a way to make more classroom space available at the school to accommodate a growing number of students.
With the need for more classroom space still a concern, officials instead propose to move the current class of fifth graders now at Hussey to Farrington Elementary School next year when they will be sixth graders. The two schools are about two miles apart.
Anastasio acknowledged that move may concern some in the community, particularly parents of students in the class that would move from Hussey to Farrington. However, he said the move for one year would buy some time, save the cost of moving the superintendent’s office, and better-integrate Hussey and Farrington sixth graders before they move to Cony the following year.
Other cuts in the budget include a bookkeeper at Capital Area Technical Center, saving about $26,000 by shifting bookkeeping responsibilities for the technical center to the bookkeeper at the attached Cony High School; the PALS, or Preparing for Adult Living program at the technical center, saving about $78,000 by having the sending schools provide the program services; and the elimination of the introduction to building technology and introduction to automotive careers classes at the technical center, saving about $62,000 each.
Anastasio said other building and automotive programs still exist at the technical center, and the two programs proposed to be cut have low student enrollment and were recommended to be cut by the CATC Advisory Committee.
Additions to the budget include one half-time and one full-time receptionist for the health center at Cony, at a combined cost of about $45,000, a half-time educational technical for Hussey for about $15,000, and a half-time receptionist at the central office for about $20,000.
The budget would use $987,000 from the schools’ fund balance, down from $1.2 million last year. The fund balance is generally made up of funds not spent in previous years.
Keith Edwards — 621-5647