AUGUSTA — A school budget up by 6.4 percent but not expected to require a tax increase is up for public scrutiny Wednesday.

Spending in the proposed $29.6 million budget is up by nearly $1.8 million over the current year’s budget. But rather than seek a corresponding increase in money from taxpayers, that increase will instead be covered with funds taken from the schools’ fund balance, an account made up of funds unspent in previous years.

Kim Martin, chairwoman of the school board, said how much money to take from the fund balance to limit the impact of the budget on taxpayers and fund the schools’ needs is one of the few remaining budget issues still unresolved. She reiterated earlier comments from Superintendent James Anastasio that the school budget won’t require an increase in property taxes.

“The amount being spent is higher, but the amount being asked for from the city (in taxes) is staying the same, because we’re using fund balance,” Martin said. “At this point I think the board has the general feeling the budget will stand as is. Though there is some concern, which we’re talking about Wednesday, we’re too dependent on fund balance.”

The fund balance account received an unexpected boost last year when the city’s schools ended up getting about $1 million more in state funding than local officials initially anticipated. Those funds came because changes in state funding for schools were made after the local budget had already been approved.

Martin said the schools plan to spend down some of that fund balance in part because state rules ban schools from keeping balances of more than 3 percent of their annual operating budget in reserves from year to year and in part to fund some long-needed capital improvement projects without increasing property taxes.

The approximately $3.5 million in “unassigned” fund balance not currently allocated to specific items would be more than 11 percent of the proposed operating budget. To get to 3 percent of the operating budget, the fund balance would ultimately need to be reduced to less than $900,000.

“So we need to spend that down,” Martin said, but do so in a way that doesn’t lead to an increased impact on local taxpayers in future years.

One-time capital improvement projects included in this year’s budget as proposed include parking lot paving at multiple school sites and new roofing for Hussey Elementary School.

Board members are scheduled to hold a workshop on the proposed school budget at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in council chambers at Augusta City Center.

The meeting includes an agenda item specifically seeking public input on the budget. It could be the final opportunity for public input before the budget is finalized and sent to the city for inclusion in the combined city and school budget, which must ultimately be approved by city councilors.

The city charter requires school officials to deliver the proposed school budget to the city by April 1.

Martin said board members are receptive to and interested in hearing the views of city residents about the budget.

“We want to know what our community is hoping for and what their concerns are,” Martin said. “It is important to hear from the community. It gives people a sense of where they stand on things.”

Projections of state school funding for next school year released by the state Department of Education indicate Augusta would get $12.5 million in funding from the state, which is approximately 0.2 percent less than the current year or a $23,425 reduction.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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