AUGUSTA — The Board of Education approved a $27.9 million school budget Wednesday, a 2.7 percent increase from the previous year.

The budget received a last-minute boost this week when, according to Superintendent James Anastasio, insurance provider Maine Benefits Trust informed schools across the state the largest increase it anticipated in insurance rates for the coming year would be 5 percent.

Anastasio said the proposed school budget had been drafted assuming a 12 percent increase in insurance costs, so with the increase projected to be only 5 percent or less, $177,000 previously budgeted for insurance costs could be reallocated within the budget.

He recommended using the $177,000 to reinstate some items and positions cut from the budget previously and add funding for a second position teaching English to students whose native language is not English.

Board members agreed to do that.

The restored positions were two half-time secretary positions in elementary schools and a study hall monitor at Cony High School at a combined cost of $52,500.

Anastasio said Augusta continues to see an increasing number of students for whom English is a foreign language and he recommended hiring a second English language teacher at a cost of about $60,000.

“Our numbers are growing, not all at once, but at a steady flow,” he said. “With the growing population, we think we need two people in the budget, not one.”

Another of Anastasio’s recommendations for using the reallocated $177,000 was to reinstate $38,000 for supplies previously cut from the budget.

He also called for canceling $27,000 worth of buildings and grounds cuts to the budget. The buildings and grounds budget was cut previously by $160,000, so the net result of the two changes is a cut of $133,000 to the originally proposed buildings and grounds budget.

Board members unanimously approved the budget with little debate.

The school budget would be funded in part by $12.7 million from local property taxes, $775,000 more than the previous year, a 6.5 percent increase.

The school budget now will go to city councilors for them to consider as part of the overall school and city budget. Then the school budget will go to voters in a citywide referendum on June 9.

The school budget alone is expected to increase the property tax rate about 2.9 percent.

City Manager William Bridgeo said he anticipates releasing the proposed city budget to city councilors for their consideration next week. He told state legislators Monday, in testimony regarding proposed changes to state excise tax law, that the city budget is likely to include a recommendation for a “significant” property tax increase.

The current property tax rate in Augusta is $18.67 for every $1,000 of property value.

The initially proposed budget, written before administrators learned Augusta’s state subsidy would be more than $1 million less than last year, was up about $1.5 million, or 5.5 percent.

When officials learned Augusta will be getting about $1 million less than they expected in state funding, it left a $1 million gap between revenue and expenses that school officials had to close. School board members agreed at previous board meetings to use $400,000 more from the schools’ fund balance account, for a total of $2 million from that account, to help balance the budget.

School board members also agreed with previous cuts proposed by administrators, including a half-time middle school literacy mentor, saving $30,000; $160,000 worth of buildings and grounds projects, a cut now reduced to $133,000; and replacing three of the system’s six school nurses with licensed practical nurses, saving $60,000.

Board members also agreed to lease-purchase technology for students, such as laptop or tablet computers, instead of buying them to close the remaining $331,000 gap between expenses and revenue by spreading out the cost of the technology over several years.

The approved budget includes an $86,000 cut in expenses from the original budget because those funds probably are unnecessary because of a proposed change in how charter schools are funded by the state, Anastasio said. Board members, after extensive debate about how to use the $86,000 last week, agreed to use it to reduce the amount to be requested from local taxpayers.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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