AUGUSTA — Additional money from the state for local schools may not be enough, or in time, to reverse an unpopular, already underway plan to move 65 elementary school students to different schools next year.

School board members discussed, in a special meeting Wednesday night, what should be done with an additional $796,135 in state funding for education that came with the recent passage of the state budget, well after board members approved the school budget in March.

School officials anticipate city councilors probably will give the schools at least half that new state money, or $398,067, to help fund the schools this coming school year.

Some school board members and parents expressed interest in using the money to reverse an already underway process in which 65 elementary school students will be moved to different schools next year, most of them from Farrington Elementary School, which is home to both some districtwide special education programs and students in the burgeoning English language learners program, many of whom are new to this country and need assistance learning how to speak, write and read English.

However, Superintendent James Anastasio said reversing course on the movement of elementary school students, done in part to better balance class sizes in the district’s four elementary schools, would be costly and might not even be possible to do now in time to be ready for next school year.

Anastasio said students are being moved from Farrington not just because there aren’t enough teachers there, without hiring more, but also because there isn’t enough classroom space there.

He said returning the 65 students who’ve been designated to move to other schools would require hiring five new teachers, but it also probably would require adding two portable classrooms. The total cost of reversing the process and returning those students to Farrington, Anastasio said, would be about $421,000. He also warned there might not be enough time to do so.

The district’s English language learners program, which board members referred to as the ELL program, is based at Farrington because it would cost more, and take up more classroom space, if each of the four elementary schools had its own English language learners program.

Kim Martin, chairwoman of the school board, suggested using the additional state money for other needs this year, and planning to address the space shortage at Farrington in the near future.

“If we’re going to keep seeing an increase in ELL, we can’t keep loading them all into Farrington,” Martin said. “I feel like we should stick with this for now, and in next year’s budget process we need to solve this ELL problem. I feel like if we try to do it now, we’re going to make a giant mess.”

Parent Dan Dechaine said he came to the meeting Wednesday not because his children were moved, but because their friends were, and they were so close to each other they considered their classmates to be family. He said learning their friend would be attending a different school next year hurt them. He also suggested it would benefit the city’s other elementary schools if they, too, had English language learner students, many of whom are immigrants, in their schools, so more schools have more mixed, diverse cultures.

Tom Connors, an at-large board member, said having to switch schools can harm some students, as they’ll have to leave familiar surroundings, teachers and friends.

“I have a hard time coming to grips with moving kids,” Connors said. “I know it’s going to cost money, but so little of our conversation has been about how does this impact the kids.”

Board members didn’t vote on the issue but did provide input to Martin on what the consensus of the board was on the use of the funds.

Martin said she planned to tell city councilors, who meet Thursday to decide what to do with the additional state funding, that the schools have many pressing needs the $398,067 could help address, including items previously cut from the school budget.

In Augusta, city councilors have the final say on how much is spent on both city and school needs, but the school board determines how to spend the money councilors appropriate for the schools.

A draft proposal put together by Ralph St. Pierre, the city’s finance director and assistant city manager, proposes to appropriate half the new state funding, or $398,067, for the schools. How it would be spent would be left up to the school board.

St. Pierre’s proposal would use $151,162 of the $796,135 in additional state money to help prevent an additional potential property tax increase, and $246,906 would be allocated to the schools later or left unspent to go into the schools’ fund balance to be used to offset taxes in future years.

St. Pierre said the goal of the proposal is to honor city councilors’ stated desire to comply with the intent of the Legislature in increasing state funding for education, which he said generally was to provide more money for schools and provide some property tax relief.

The $151,162 is the maximum amount Augusta can decrease local property taxes for education without falling under the required local contribution to qualify for the state education funding Augusta receives, according to St. Pierre.

City councilors are scheduled to meet Thursday to consider amending the combined city and school budget to reflect the additional revenue from the state.

Martin said it seemed to be the consensus of board members to tell councilors the board would not be angry if councilors set the $246,906 aside, though board members noted they could ask councilors later to give that money to the schools, if needs arise.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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