AUGUSTA — The school board approved a $29.2 million school budget Wednesday, unanimously and without debate.

The budget was increased, at the request of school board members at a previous meeting, by about $280,000 from Superintendent James Anastasio’s initial proposal.

Anastasio’s initial draft totaled $28.9 million, which was about $740,000 less than the current year’s budget.

School board members put items cut in Anastasio’s proposal back into the budget, increasing it to just under $29.2 million.

Funding for positions cut but then returned to the budget by the board in the proposal approved Wednesday totals about $280,000. The positions include a school nurse at Cony High School, at $71,000; a security guard at Cony, at $27,000; and other positions, according to Kim Martin, chairwoman of the school board.

The budget now goes to the City Council to be included in the overall city and school budget. Councilors can, and often do, ask that the school board make changes to the budget before councilors vote on whether to approve the total city and school budget. The school budget also is subject to validation by voters in a citywide referendum scheduled for June 13.

Board members Wednesday also unanimously approved another proposal that will go to voters in June.

It seeks residents’ permission for the board, if Augusta receives more state funding for education than the amount included in the local budget, to use some or all of the additional money in the upcoming school year. The board could use the money to add programming and its associated expenses back into the budget, and/or use the additional state money to decrease the amount of money that would come from local property taxpayers.

Martin said a new state law allows school systems, if they get more money from the state than anticipated in their budgets, to use it to help fund that year’s budget. Martin said previously when that happened, the additional money couldn’t be used if the local budget had already been adopted, so the additional state money went into the fund balance account, where it couldn’t be used in the current year, the year it was intended to help fund; though it could be, and previously has been, used to help fund future years’ budgets.

The proposal could help address the challenge to school administrators in proposing a budget without yet knowing how much state funding will be coming.

“Very often the state budget isn’t finalized until after we’ve already gone to voters,” and the local school budget has been approved, Martin said. “And so it goes into fund balance, and it’s untouchable for the budget year.”

The latest projection of state aid to schools estimates Augusta could receive $12.8 million from the state, $159,000 more than it got from the state this year, and $135,000 more than Anastasio’s initial budget proposal anticipated.

The increase in projected state funding covers some but not all of the expenses added back into the budget by board members, leaving about $145,000 in additional funding to come from local taxpayers.

Even before that change, the school budget, although it is smaller than the current year’s $29.6 million budget, would have required $600,000 more funding from local taxpayers next year. That’s because the proposed budget takes less from the fund balance, or surplus, account than the current year’s, leaving more of the funding burden to be covered by property taxes.

With the restored cuts, the budget would now, if passed as proposed, require an additional $740,000 from taxpayers.

The school budget includes funding for multiple new positions to help teach English to a growing number of students who are relatively new to this country and don’t speak English well, or at all. New funding for English language learners includes $94,576 to hire two new teachers, $97,319 to hire four new education technicians, and $24,330 to hire one new interpreter, all to work with the city’s increasing population of students whose primary language is not English.

Superintendent James Anastasio said the school system has about 140 such students, up from 90 students just since the start of the school year. The additional staff members, he said, are needed to be able to meet the educational needs of those students.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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