AUGUSTA — Board of Education members looked for ways to cut the proposed $27.5 million school budget, which would result in property taxpayers paying an additional 4.26 percent compared to what they paid this year, while limiting the effect on students Wednesday.

Spending in the proposed budget is up 1.95 percent, or $525,000, according to Superintendent Cornelia Brown.

Some teaching and other positions are cut from the budget, but others are added. Brown said overall the staff changes will result in three fewer full-time positions.

The budget would cut two programs from the Capital Area Technical Center – the Diversified Occupations program and its one teacher and two education technicians, and the Cooperative Education Program and its lone teacher.

Scott Phair, the technical center’s director, said he wishes they could keep the programs, but the cuts were made because of a lack of students enrolled in them.

Board members at a workshop Wednesday expressed concerns about cutting the Diversified Occupations program, which includes both a greenhouse and technology programs.

Brown said keeping the program would put $154,000 back into the budget.

Other cuts include one electrical technology education technician, one half-time secretary at Farrington Elementary School and one half-time English language learner teacher, who teaches students whose native language generally is not English, at Cony High School.

Positions added to the budget include a special-education teacher for the functional skills program; an occupational therapist; an increase, from half-time to full-time, for the Gilbert Elementary School dean of students; a half-time Cony art teacher, half-time gifted-and-talented teacher, and a part-time education technician for the building and construction program at CATC.

Brown said the additional special-education teacher and occupational therapist are needed because of an increase in students with those needs, the Cony art teacher was added to meet a Board of Education goal to increase course offerings for Cony students, and the gifted-and-talented position would help meet a state mandate that Augusta increase its gifted-and-talented offerings for younger students.

The budget includes $436,000 in funding for athletics, a figure that Paul Vachon said hasn’t increased since he became athletic director, some five years ago.

Board member Larry Ringrose said the board should at least look into creating a pay-to-play system, in which parents of athletes help pay the costs of athletics. He suggested not charging the parents of students who receive free or reduced-prices lunches to participate in athletics.

Vachon, however, said many schools that had a pay-to-play system scrapped that form of funding, in part because of concerns about being unfair to students whose parents couldn’t afford to pay. Vachon also said athletics have a major effect on many students.

“I think we teach a lot of things in athletics, not just winning and losing,” Vachon said. He said Augusta’s 58 athletics teams “should be considered classrooms, because that’s what they are.”

The inclusion of the $194,000 increase in state funding is based on projections the state Department of Education made last year.

Brown cautioned that local schools could end up receiving less money than projected as the state deals with its own ongoing budget problems.

“I think that number is going to go down,” Brown said.

The budget uses $1.2 million from the School Department’s fund balance, money carried over from the current year. The fund balance received an influx of cash in 2011 from the federal stimulus program, some of which school officials set aside to help offset expenses in the proposed budget. Taking $1.2 million would leave $882,000 in the fund balance.

“It can’t be sustained,” Brown said, warning no additional federal stimulus funding is expected to replenish the fund. “I’d be irresponsible for me to tell you, you can count on that $1.2 million indefinetly, because you can’t.”

The school budget will ultimately have to be approved by both the Board of Education and the City Council. The city charter requires it to be delivered to city officials by April 1. The Feb. 8 Board of Education meeting will include time for the public to comment on the budget.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]


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