AUGUSTA — Some teachers worry the proposed school budget up for approval this week relies on them to go without so the district can weather tough economic times.

About 375 teachers, custodians and support staff the local union represents already made a similar sacrifice with their last contract, according to Augusta Education Association President Jeff DeJongh. They are falling behind both the cost of living and the pay of their peers at other schools, he said.

“In the last contract, we took no step increases and only 1 percent increases (in salary),” said DeJongh, a veteran science teacher at Cony High School. “Since we helped out the community with the last contract, we’re now one of the lowest paid staffs in the area. Now, here we are once again, being asked to bail the school department out financially.”

A public input session on the budget is planned Monday at 6 p.m. in the cafeteria at Capital Area Technical Center, followed by a school board budget workshop.

Teachers and other staff have been working without a contract since at least last September. DeJongh said there is no money for teacher raises in the current year’s budget and only a small amount — not enough to even match cost of living increases — in the budget up for Board of Education approval Wednesday.

Interim Superintendent James Anastasio said there is some money in the proposed, $26.7 million budget for staff raises, but said he couldn’t say exactly how much.

Negotiations are continuing with teachers and the board negotiating team meeting as recently as last Monday.

“The goal of the school board is to settle the contracts of the three bargaining units as fairly as possible given the economic realities and financial constraints,” Anastasio said Friday. “The school board has the difficult responsibility of ensuring that the needs of students are met, that taxpayer monies are responsibly utilized, and that employees are fairly compensated, all within the confines of limited resources.

“Unfortunately, the balancing act that is necessary to accomplish all three is more and more difficult as financial resources decline and costs continue to rise.”

DeJongh said he understands the school board is “in a tough place,” trying to balance the budget, especially with a proposal by Gov. Paul LePage to shift more of the cost of employee retirement benefits from the state to local school districts. But he said school staff should not be expected to bail out the school district by going without.

One concern expressed by a resident at the last public input session — that a copy of the full budget had not been made available for the public to see — has been addressed. The budget is available at the school’s website at www.augustaschools.org.

The budget, as proposed, would require $620,000 more from local property taxpayers.

Anastasio said that $620,000 increase is equal to the amount of potential cost-shifts from the state, including the retirement costs proposal and a state budget curtailment.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]

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