AUGUSTA — The city’s schools are expected to get about $1 million less in state funding than last year, leaving a $1 million gap in this year’s proposed budget.

With a local property tax increase already included in the proposal, officials say the only way to cover the $1 million gap may be cuts.

Superintendent James Anastasio discovered the unexpected drop in funding Thursday when the state Department of Education released projected state subsidy amounts for Maine schools.

Last year, Augusta got about $13.3 million in state funding, and, based on initial projections, Anastasio and Business Manager Kathy Casparius included $13.3 million in state funding as revenue in the proposed budget the Augusta Board of Education is working on.

According to the preliminary state funding projections put online by the state Department of Education Thursday, Augusta will get about $12.2 million in state funding based on Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed two-year state budget.

The document notes the amounts are preliminary, and could change before final action is taken on the budget by the Legislature.

Anastasio said local officials have not yet had a chance to analyze why Augusta’s subsidy is about $1 million less than initially expected.

“The proposed budget used a subsidy figure which was the same as last year, flat funded, because that’s what the initial information was,” on what to expect, Anastasio said Friday. “We expected a little bit of a drop, because our population is down 33 to 35 students, but we never anticipated close to $1 million. We’re going to have to address it in some way. Because in the proposed budget, revenues matched our expenses, so, obviously, if revenues are down, we’re going to have to reduce expenses by the same amount.”

The initially proposed budget, presented late last month, which board members are now debating, is up about $1.5 million, or 5.5 percent, and would require a 7 percent property tax increase.

However, that budget was based on receiving $13.3 million in revenues from the state, not the $12.2 Augusta’s schools are projected to get now.

“I’m concerned we’re going to have a really hard time meeting our needs with what we have, I’m very concerned about just maintaining what we have,” for students in Augusta, said Kim Martin, chairwoman of the school board. “We’re already very streamlined.”

Board members will meet for the first time since the state subsidy projections were released in a budget workshop at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in council chambers at Augusta City Center. The meeting will include an opportunity for public comment, followed by a board discussion on the budget and, likely, possible ways to cut expenses to close the budget gap.

“Our options are we can go back into the budget and take things out, or we can ask for more money,” Martin said. “And I don’t know that (asking taxpayers for more money) is a possibility. As a board we need to get into what our priorities are and what we can manage with what we have.”

Anastasio and Martin met briefly with city councilors Thursday, in a previously scheduled joint meeting of city and school officials.

City officials, who had a discussion about the negative impact of proposed state funding changes on city finances at their council meeting following the joint meeting with school officials, decried the cut in state funding to local schools.

“It isn’t city ordinances that require the school department to offer the services it does, they’re mandated by state law,” Ward 3 Councilor Patrick Paradis said during a lengthy, wide-ranging discussion about the impact of LePage’s proposed budget on the city. “We can’t just say, ‘we’ll have five fewer days of school, to save money.’ It looks like a modern medicine man show right now, coming out of the governor’s budget. And I don’t think the people of Maine ought to buy it.”

LePage’s proposed two-year budget increases funding for schools statewide overall, according to the Department of Education. His proposed budget includes $964.1 million for general purpose aid to schools, an increase of $20.3 million over the amount appropriated by the state Legislature last year.

Anastasio said he’ll meet next week with principals to discuss potential recommendations administrators may make to the school board, to close the new projected budget gap.

The school budget must be presented to the city by the end of March. The school budget must be approved by the school board, then by councilors as part of the overall city budget and, ultimately, by voters in a June referendum.

“We’ll do some more analysis of the reasons why, and figure out how to react to it,” Anastasio said of the reduced state funding. “The city is trying to figure out their funding, and we’re going to have to work together to figure out how to deal with it.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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