AUGUSTA — The school board approved a $29.6 million school budget Wednesday night, with $12.7 million of that proposed to come from local taxes, the same amount from taxes as was used last year.

School board members went with the higher of two amounts proposed to come from local taxes, selecting the $12.7 million figure over a $12.4 million amount that had been recommended, school officials said, by City Manager William Bridgeo.

The combined city and school budget ultimately is subject to approval by the City Council.

Superintendent James Anastasio said school and city officials met last week and talked more this week about the school budget and how much of it would come from property taxes. He said Bridgeo, who is responsible for putting together the initial city budget proposal, recommended funding $12.4 million of the school budget from property taxes. But Anastasio noted what amount is submitted to the city is up to the board, and board members voted 7-1 to submit the higher, $12.7 million request for funding from taxpayers.

“You don’t get what you don’t ask for,” said Deborah Towle, Ward 2 board member. “I think we should go in with the larger ask. If we go in with the lower one, they’re going to go with that.”

Edward Hastings, an at-large board member, submitted the only vote against seeking the higher, $12.7 million amount from taxpayers. He said the budget doesn’t cut any school programs, it draws down the fund balance, Augusta is getting more from the state than initially projected, and the request from city officials seemed fair.

So, he said, “why not go to the lower number?”

Tom Connors, an at-large board member, expressed concern that reducing the amount to come from property taxes in the proposed budget could lead to a larger increase, or the need for cuts to programs, in the following year’s budget, when less fund balance money will be available to use.

Spending in the proposed $29.6 million budget is up by nearly $1.8 million over the current year’s budget, a 6.4 percent increase. It is not expected to require a tax increase, because of the use of $3.4 million from fund balance, an account built up with money budgeted, but unspent, in previous recent years.

However, when combined with the not-yet-written city budget, the city and school budget together could still result in a tax increase. Anastasio said the effect on taxpayers can’t be determined until the city budget is proposed. Pushed by Connors to project the tax impact, Anastasio projected the potential tax increase of the combined city and school budget at 3.3 percent to 4 percent.

The city charter requires school officials to deliver the proposed school budget to the city by April 1. It then is combined with the city budget.

Kim Martin, the board chairwoman, said Mayor David Rollins and city councilors shared board members’ concerns about the need to decrease, in the near future, the schools’ reliance on money left over in fund balance to help fund the following year’s budget.

The proposed budget would use $3.4 million from fund balance, about $1 million of which, Anastasio said, would fund one-time capital improvement-type expenses to buildings and parking lots, and about $2.4 million funding regular expenses that, without it, would have to be funded from property taxes.

As of February, the School Department had about $5.5 million in its fund balance

State law prohibits school systems from keeping balances of more than 3 percent of their annual operating budget in reserve from year to year. Augusta’s $5.5 million in fund balance amounts to about 18.6 percent of this year’s proposed, $29.6 million budget. To get to 3 percent of the operating budget, the fund balance ultimately would need to be reduced to less than $900,000.

Superintendent James Anastasio has said Augusta must spend that fund balance down to 3 percent over the next three years.

The fund balance accumulated up to $5.5 million over the last several years, as expenses have come in under budget each of those years.

Kathy Casparius, business manager, outlined several reasons the fund balance has accumulated in recent years, such as $320,000 in savings, compared to what was budgeted, for teacher salaries and benefits last year. She and Anastasio said they budget based upon past spending, and sometimes actual expenses for the year end up being less than budgeted.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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