WATERVILLE — School Superintendent Eric Haley told a crowded City Council chamber Tuesday night that he doesn’t think he ever has had to present a budget calling for a $1 million increase, but loss of revenue and increased expenditures are driving the proposed $21.8 million budget.

The proposed budget includes $535,000 in proposed cuts from an original proposal, including cutting of the school resource officer, a plan to fill retiring employee slots with those who would earn less money, not filling coaching positions and other cuts.

“I’m not unhappy with the expenditure side of the budgets; it’s the revenue sides that are killing us,” Haley said.

About 100 people packed the council chamber in what was the largest crowd to attend a budget workshop in many years. People were standing and several had to sit on the floor for the meeting, which Mayor Nick Isgro said was not a time for debate, as it was a workshop and not a regular council session.

“That will happen when we are voting on the budget,” he said.

Haley explained a number of issues driving the proposed budget, including $674,174 more in funding needed for the expenditure side and the loss of $400,574 in revenue, for a total $1.07 million needed in tax revenue to fund the budget. Last year, the schools used about $500,000 in surplus money to help fund the budget and the schools have no surplus left, he said.

Haley noted that it is difficult to develop a budget when revenue is unknown. Gov. Paul LePage is recommending 48 changes to the funding formula for essential programs and services that would affect school budgets, and the Legislature has yet to vote on them.

“I think we’re all savvy enough to know that all 48 of his changes are not going to go through,” Haley said.

The audience Tuesday included two opposing groups. One calls itself the People’s Council, the members of which do not want the city’s tax rate to increase and say they will fight for a budget repeal if that occurs, as residents cannot afford an increase. Members of the other group, the newly formed Friends of Waterville Public Schools, say they do not want the school budget to be cut. They contend that Waterville spends less per pupil than surrounding communities and most other Maine communities, schools are doing more with less and strong public schools are critical to Waterville’s future.

The audience, members of whom were told they could ask questions once councilors had that opportunity, sat mostly silent for more than one hour Tuesday as Haley explained the budget issues and councilors asked questions.

Councilor Winifred Tate, D-Ward 6, asked Haley what the proposed $1.07 million increase represents.

“What is that making up? What are you asking for in that?” she said.

Haley said it includes a projected 3 percent salary increase, a 6.5 percent increase in medical insurance, representing about $160,000; money Waterville has to pay for Maine State Retirement that it did not have to pay previously, for about $405,893; and the $500,000 hole created by surplus money having been used last year for the budget.

Council Chairman Steve Soule, D-Ward 1, urged Haley to consider not funding technology needs in the budget, which would represent a savings of about $589,000.

“We’ll take a look at it,” Haley replied.

Soule also asked if school officials had considered eliminating assistant principal positions.

Haley said assistant principals are needed to deal with the increase in student behavioral problems that are occurring at all age levels. If a teacher has to take a student into the hallway for 20 minutes to speak calmly to the student and deal with the issue, the rest of the students in the class are losing out on 20 minutes of education time, he said. Barbara Jordan, principal at the Albert S. Hall School, does not have an assistant principal, he said.

Councilor Jackie Dupont, D-Ward 7, asked Haley to explain the effect of losing a school resource officer.

Haley said that officer is trained specifically to work with youth. While a police officer from the department could respond to calls at schools, a regular officer does not have the training a school resource officer has, according to Haley.

A school resource officer, he said, befriends students, does some teaching, helps with behavioral problems, works on truancy problems and generally sends a strong message to students that he is there to support them. The officer also deals with bad situations such as when a woman who was psychotic threatened to go to a school to harm someone.

“Those are the kinds of things that didn’t happen 25 years ago — at least not here,” Haley said.

Soule asked if a plan to explore the possibility of closing the Hall School could result in the school closing in September. Haley said he is going through a similar process in Winslow with closing the junior high school and it is about a three-year process to do so.

“I don’t see it possible, Steve, for September,” Haley said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

 

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