AUGUSTA — The Board of Education has directed administrators to add about $700,000 to the proposed school budget on which it is scheduled to vote Wednesday.

The additional funds would bring the budget up to the amount the state’s Essential Programs and Services funding model indicated Augusta should spend on its schools, according to board members.

The proposed new spending, which was proposed late Monday night during a board meeting, would increase the school budget to about $27.4 million and require $1.3 million more from local property taxpayers than last year — about a 5 percent increase.

“We feel if we’re really committed to our students’ education, we need to fund the budget at adequate levels, and at the very least fund at what the state considers the minimum,” Board Chairwoman Susan Campbell said Tuesday. “Yes, we’re in tough economic times; but we’re really down to the bare-bones minimum. In my time on the board, we’ve closed two schools and laid off dozens and dozens of positions. We really can’t continue to do that if we expect our children to get out of school with an adequate education.”

Interim Superintendent James Anastasio, whose most recent budget proposal was for $26.7 million, worked on adding the new spending to the budget Tuesday in anticipation of the board’s Wednesday vote on the budget.

Anastasio said the proposed additions to the budget will include an additional $100,000, on top of $50,000 already budgeted, to study and begin the process of relocating the superintendent’s office by the fall of 2014, because the space it occupies now at Hussey Elementary School will be needed for classroom space by then; $227,000 to account for a state proposal to shift more of the costs of teacher retirement costs to local districts; $165,000 in educational funds that could be used for programming, teachers, or other teaching-related expenses; and $187,000 to reduce the amount of funds to be used from the fund balance from $987,000 to $800,000.

The board is scheduled to vote on the proposed budget at its meeting that begins at 6:30 in the cafeteria at Capital Area Technical Center.

Anastasio said if board members make major changes to the proposed warrant articles he is putting together, based on Monday’s discussion, another vote may have to be scheduled — presumably later this week.

The budget must be delivered to the City Council by April 1, a requirement of the City Charter.

Campbell said she hopes city councilors, who will vote whether to approve the final, combined school and city budget, will understand the need to provide adequate funding for schools.

Board member Larry Ringrose speculated the school board may get the increased budget back from councilors, with instructions to cut it back down.

“I don’t know if (the City Council) is going to fund an additional $1.3 million,” Ringrose said. “If they don’t approve it, it comes back to the board. Hopefully, they’ll give us a number and say, ‘This is the number we’ll fund.’ Then we can go back and decide what programs to cut.”

City Manager William Bridgeo said Tuesday he was finalizing his proposed city budget, and it would be delivered to councilors later this week.

He said his proposal used school budget figures provided previously by Anastasio, not the figures requested by school board members Monday night. Bridgeo declined to comment on the board’s proposed changes to the budget.

Ringrose said the board decided to seek the additional money by a straw poll.

Earlier in the meeting Monday night, Campbell expressed frustration at the seemingly annual need to cut programs to balance the budget and avoid the need to raise property taxes. She said the schools barely are meeting the minimum required for students to get a diploma.

She said Tuesday that when it comes to education, people either can pay now for an adequate education for students or pay more later by having more people on welfare or in prison.

“This board is really passionate about the children in our district and concerned about our staff. We have really dedicated teachers,” Campbell said. “And we’ve asked everybody to take it on the chin for so many years.”

Anastasio said board members debated back and forth before deciding to put the question before city councilors, and voters, about whether they would agree to pay the additional $1.3 million, which would be required from taxpayers to bring Augusta’s spending up to this year’s Essential Programs and Services funding model’s amount. Anastasio said the Essential Programs and Services level of funding is intended to provide a basic education.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]

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