AUGUSTA — Middle school sports, elementary band, a high school administrator, enough buses to pick up all elementary students at the same time, and education technicians who help special education students get jobs and integrate into society after high school are among the potential cuts to help slash $1 million from the school budget.

If no cuts are made, the currently proposed school budget would increase property taxes by 11 percent.

Board of Education members agreed they can’t propose a budget with such a large a tax increase to city councilors, who have the final say on the city and school budgets.

Superintendent Cornelia Brown, at the direction of board members, listed many potential cuts to reduce the budget. Together they totaled more than $1 million, enough to reduce the school budget’s tax increase to about 2 percent.

Brown offered the cuts in four tiers, with tier 1 being the least painful potential cuts, and tier 4 the most painful, she said.

Tier 4 cuts included eliminating the popular elementary school band program to save $102,000, cutting an administrator at Cony High School to save $90,000, and making the Hussey Elementary School principal a half-time position, with the other half of her time spent as coordinator of the Title 1 reading program districtwide, saving $44,000.

Most board members spoke against the tier 4 cuts. Some suggested eliminating dean of students positions at other elementary schools rather than cutting the Hussey principal’s position to half time.

Brown warned that cutting a high school administrator could make it difficult to keep an administrator with a focus on students in grades seven and eight, who have attended Cony since the city’s former middle schools, Buker and Hodgkins, closed.

Athletics would take a $52,000 reduction if board members approve a cut Brown suggested at the tier 3 level.

Athletic Director Paul Vachon said that cut would include eliminating middle school sports, to save $37,000.

He said many middle school students participate in other sports leagues and could participate in YMCA and city recreation programs.

However, board members worried that some students won’t be able to afford to participate in nonschool sports. They suggested looking at cutting some high school sports programs instead to save the $37,000.

“We lost Buker and Hodgkins, and our middle schoolers don’t even have a significant time of day to eat lunch (at Cony),” said Betty Jo Libby, board member for Ward 3. “Now we’re going to get rid of their sports as well? They’re constantly getting pushed to the side. Are we going to get rid of middle schoolers some day?”

Cutting technicians who serve as job coaches to special education students would save $60,000.

Special Education Director Donna Madore said the two technicians teach students work and social skills to prepare them for life after school.

Board members noted the elementary band program enables students to play in the middle school band, which enables them to play in the high school band.

Board members approved a new bus contract this year meant to provide enough buses so all elementary students can be picked up at the same time at the end of the school day, instead of the current system of tiered pickups, which results in some students having less productive classroom time at the end of the day. Cutting the extra buses would save $140,000, the biggest tier 1 cut.

Brown’s initial budget proposal of $27.5 million, submitted to the Board of Education in late January, was expected to lead to a property tax increase of 4.26 percent.

However, since that budget was submitted, school officials learned Augusta is scheduled to receive about $710,000 less in state education funding than anticipated.

That revenue drop left school officials scrambling to find even more ways to cut expenses, or risk an even larger tax increase.

Brown does not recommend closing any school buildings. She said the school system does not have solid projections of its future student enrollment, and without those, she cannot recommend planning to close a school.

Board Chairwoman Susan Campbell said enrollment projections are expected to be available in April.

Augusta’s current budget is $2.2 million less than what the state’s Essential Programs and Services funding model indicates a school system like Augusta’s should raise for education, according to Business Manager Karla Miller.

Spending in the proposed budget, before the new potential cuts offered by Brown Wednesday, was up 1.95 percent, or $525,000.

Some teaching and other positions were cut from that initial budget, but others were added. Overall, Brown said, the staff changes would have resulted in three fewer full-time positions.

Proponents of the programs targeted by those cuts already have objected strongly to the cuts, before the latest round of new cuts was proposed.

The city charter requires the budget to be delivered to city officials by April 1.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]


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