AUGUSTA — More than a week after residents approved the school budget, the Board of Education has cut teachers and other staff, the co-operative education program at Capital Area Technical Center, the family consumer science program at Cony High School, and the Hussey Elementary School principal position.

Board members made the moves late Wednesday night as they cut $560,000 from the $27.4 million school budget.

The school budget was already approved by the Board of Education, the City Council and residents in a citywide referendum on June 11.

However, the budget was approved with a gap between revenues and expenses, according to Interim Superintendent James Anastasio.

To close that gap, the Board of Education agreed to a series of staff and program cuts.

“None of these decisions were easy and none of these cuts are things we can really live without,” said Susan Campbell, chairwoman of the board. “We’ve cut close to $1 million now and we’re bleeding quite heavily.”

The cuts include having Hussey Elementary School overseen by an assistant principal, not a principal, next year. The position is vacant. This year’s principal, Michelle Michaud, resigned effective at the end of the school year. That switch is expected to save about $15,000.

Other cuts include a Cony science teacher, saving about $70,000; the family consumer science, or home economics, program at Cony, saving $80,000; the co-operative education program at CATC, saving $62,000; a $50,000 cut from $150,000 budgeted to facilitate the move of the superintendent’s office out of the Hussey building; the elementary technology mentor, saving $41,000, and a Cony special education job coach, saving $24,000.

“The budget was set but, unfortunately, there was a gap between revenues and proposed expenditures for the year,” Anastasio said. “You have to find a way to fill that hole. You can either increase revenues or decrease expenses. And the amount of revenues we had was set. So the board reduced expenses. No reduction is easy to do.”

When city councilors considered the school budget, Mayor William Stokes suggested that school officials take an additional $414,000 from their fund balance account, which is made up of money not spent in previous years, in addition to the $800,000 the school board had already agreed to take from fund balance, to reduce the money the school budget would need from taxpayers.

However, school officials, who are in the midst of negotiations with teachers and other union employees who have been working without contracts, said additional cuts were necessary, in part because they feared that depleting the fund balance account too much this year would make the impact of next year’s budget on taxpayers even worse, because they wouldn’t have enough fund balance to offset the hit on taxpayers.

“I’m disappointed the City Council wasn’t willing to put our budget out to citizens,” Campbell said, noting that Augusta’s local contribution to the school budget was $1.6 million less than the state’s Essential Programs and Services funding model suggested it should be. “We don’t really have that much more left to take out of fund balance. And we still have unsettled contracts with staff who have been working over a year now without contracts. It is time for us to get these contracts settled.”

Jeff DeJongh, a Cony science teacher and president of the union local Augusta Education Association, said the cuts were difficult and the impact on the staff will be a great loss.

DeJongh, who sat through much of the debate between city councilors and school officials about school funding, said school officials didn’t do a good enough job explaining that more money was needed in the budget so there would be enough money for the board to negotiate new contracts with teachers and other staff.

“I wish the school department did a better job explaining exactly what they needed for funds for negotiations, going in,” DeJongh said. “Because it seemed as though if the City Council had a better idea of where we were, we might not be in this place now.”

DeJongh, however, said he is pleased the school district is working hard to be able to settle contracts with the union employees, and acknowledged the effort to reserve funds to help pay for potential new contracts was one reason the board had to make the latest staff and program cuts it did.

Anastasio said the cuts were based on a list of potential cuts put together by administrators, including principals, for board members to consider. He said they were selected as the cuts that would have the least impact on students.

Other cuts, and what they are projected to save, include: a vacant custodian’s position, $40,000; athletic equipment, $15,000; a part-time elementary instrumental music teacher, $35,000; a part-time Cony art teacher, $35,000; a vacant part-time education technician, $15,000; a part-time elementary library education technician, $15,000; a reduction in dues and fees for memberships, $20,000; and the middle school athletic director, a stipend-funded position, $7,500.

Anastasio and Campbell said their target figure for cuts was even higher.

“The goal, when we walked in, was between $600,000 and $750,000,” Anastasio said. “But the board found it so difficult to do, because, over time, so many things have already been cut. They felt that was as deep as they could go.”  

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]

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