AUGUSTA — The Board of Education meets Wednesday to deal with a City Council directive to alter the school budget to lessen the amount it will need from local taxpayers by $280,000.

School administrators and city officials recommend taking the $280,000 from the schools’ fund balance or making other adjustments to projected revenues rather than making $280,000 in cuts from the budget.

Superintendent James Anastasio said the board could decide to make up the $280,000 in part by increasing the amount of money to come from fund balance, an account made up of money unspent in previous years, and in part by boosting other revenue projections.

City officials, at a recent meeting regarding the proposed $58.1 million combined city and school budget, said they wanted a budget that would require no more than a 2 percent increase in property taxes. As part of that, they directed school officials to trim $280,000 from what the proposed $29.6 million school budget approved in March would require from local taxpayers. City councilors said they didn’t expect school officials to cut programs or staff from the budget to come up with the $280,000, but instead to take that additional amount from the schools’ fund balance.

The agenda for Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting includes two options: taking the entire amount from fund balance, or taking most of it — $217,000 — from fund balance, and also adding $40,000 to the projection for tuition revenues and $10,600 in revenues from Medicaid reimbursements.

“Those are educated guesses,” Anastasio said of those potential revenue adjustments. “We felt, if that’s a choice the board wants to make, those are things we could do. The board could do something different, if they wish.”

The school budget as approved by board members in March would not require an increase in property taxes, requiring roughly the same amount from taxpayers as last year.

However, city councilors, who have the final say on the combined city and school budget, directed school officials to reduce their request from taxpayers by $280,000, which would help offset an increase in city spending in the budget.

Ralph St. Pierre, finance director and assistant city manager, said the School Department received $280,000 more than anticipated in state funding, which school officials decided to use to reduce the amount coming from the schools’ fund balance reserve next year.

The school system has more than $5 million in its fund balance, well over the amount state law says school departments should retain in such accounts. So school officials proposed to take $3.2 million from that money next year to spend it down, to finance about $1 million in one-time needed capital improvements and to help fund next year’s budget.

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.

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.

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

Board members meet at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the cafeteria at Capital Area Technical Center.

Board members, following the scheduled vote on the budget adjustment, are also scheduled to discuss long-term budget planning and how to fund the schools in the future without relying on fund balance money once those funds are depleted.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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