AUGUSTA — The Board of Education sought to make $444,000 in cuts to the budget Wednesday to bring it in line with the overall city and school budget recently approved by the City Council.

The $59.3 million total city and school budget approved by city councilors May 25 included $29.4 million for the school budget, which was about $444,000 less than the school budget approved by the school board March 22.

Cutting the first $297,000 may be fairly easy, as that’s the amount the district expects to save due to employee health insurance costs coming in lower than projected. Superintendent James Anastasio’s initially proposed budget included $297,000 in additional funding to cover the cost of a then-expected 10 percent increase in health insurance rates. However health insurance costs now are projected to remain flat, not increase. So city councilors cut the $297,000 expected to be saved in insurance costs from the school budget.

The school board was left Wednesday to search for ways to close a gap of about $147,000 from the proposed budget.

Anastasio and other school administrators recommended cuts including: One elementary school teacher, saving about $60,000; elimination of one of two nursing positions at Cony High School, saving $71,000; elimination of Project Pride at Farrington and Gilbert elementary schools, which both also have dean of students positions, saving about $82,000; eliminating a computer laboratory technician’s job, saving $53,000; and cutting one of two security guard positions at Cony, saving $27,000.

Anastasio said those are the same cuts administrators recommended much earlier in the budget process. He said they reviewed them again recently and “the team believes all reductions are painful and will impact the education of students, but they still believe the cuts that will impact programs and students the least are still,” the same cuts they recommended previously.

Following extensive debate, some board members favored cutting one elementary teacher, cutting one of two nurses at Cony, and cutting $10,000 from the legal expenses budget. Those cuts, together, would total about $147,000.

Martin said the board could vote on the proposed changes at their next business meeting.

Kati McCormick, Ward 4 board member, presented a list of potential budget cuts from lines throughout the budget, including classroom materials. She said if $10 were cut from each line of the budget, that could provide enough savings to cover the $147,000.

Jennifer Neumeyer, at-large board member, favored that approach, in hopes of finding cuts that’d have less of a negative impact on students than the ones recommended by adminstrators.

“By removing positions and programs, and shuffling kids, I feel we are not in it for the kids when we’re doing that, we’re doing it selfishly as taxpayers,” she said.

Deborah Towle, board member, said if cutting small amounts from throughout the budget were that easy, administrators would have recommended doing so. But they did not, instead recommending the previously cited list of potential cuts.

“They were asked to come up with money and this is what we were given,” Towle said of the list of recommended cuts from adminstrators. “I’m not sure we’ll be able to find it in books or that sort of thing. I’m really conflicted, because none of this is good.”

School board members in March increased Anastasio’s initially proposed budget by about $280,000, restoring some positions that would have been cut, after learning Augusta was expected to receive about $135,000 more in state aid for education than initially projected.

Board members went into a closed-door executive session, which was not listed on the agenda, to discuss the status of labor relations after board member Tom Connors said how negotiations are going could be a factor in board members’ decisions on how to deal with the budget gap. They returned to public session a few minutes later.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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