AUGUSTA — Voters approved the $27.4 million school budget Tuesday.

The budget was approved in a referendum by a vote of 342– 213.

In a city with about 14,000 registered voters, only 555 residents turned out to vote, deciding the budget’s fate.

“I’m glad the budget was approved,” said Susan Campbell, chairwoman of the Board of Education. “But I’m sad there aren’t as many people in the community engaged in the balloting process as they should be. I think we have a lot of work ahead of us.”

Campbell expressed frustration at the turnout especially because so much attention and heated debate was focused on the school budget this year. Both the City Council and the Board of Education held public hearings in an effort to get the public involved, and informed, about the budget.

“I know everybody is busy and there is a lot going on; but we have, what, 20,000 residents?” Campbell said. “I know the budget was the only thing on the ballot, but I was really hoping there would be a bigger turnout.”

Campbell said if residents don’t make their views heard by voting, it makes it harder for the school board to make decisions, because they won’t know what people want.

City councilors already had approved the combined $52.5 million city and school budget last week. However, the school budget also is subject to approval by residents.

The city and newly approved school budget are expected to increase the tax rate from $17.55 to $18.15.

That would result in the owner of a $125,000 home in Augusta paying $72 more in property taxes for the year.

Campbell said the school board still has some difficult decisions to make.

Last Saturday, board members voted to use about $400,000 more from the schools’ fund balance account, in addition to the $800,000 they already had planned to take from the account, which generally consists of funds unspent in previous years.

The board is in negotiations with the teachers’ union and two other employee bargaining units, each of which are working without contracts.

In a second referendum question, residents voted to continue voting annually on the school budget.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]

 

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