AUGUSTA — Some school board members are advocating for adding staff positions, in particular someone who’d be in charge of helping students use technology to improve their studies, even as fellow board members acknowledge the budget as currently proposed already would be a tough sell to city councilors because it’s up by 6 percent.

As proposed by administrators, the $30.8 million school budget would require $13.7 million, or about $1.1 million more, from local taxpayers, an 8.6 percent increase. In Augusta the budget is approved initially by the school board but also is subject to approval, as part of the overall school and city budget, by city councilors. Some school board members said during a budget workshop Monday night they’re concerned city councilors will reject the increased school budget, even without, as some board members advocated, new positions being added to it.

“We’ve come to the realization that a 6 percent increase is not OK. We’ve got to figure out what we can give up,” said Chris Clark, Ward 2 board member.

Tom Connors, an at-large board member, said he thinks the school system needs to hire a curriculum coordinator to help improve student test scores he said are too low, a human resources director to improve teacher retention and recruitment, and an information technology leader to implement technology into the classroom, help teachers integrate it into the curriculum, and help students use it to improve their educations.

To make that proposal cost-neutral, Connors proposed cutting positions that he said make roughly the same in salary as would be needed to fund the new positions. That would include the assistant superintendent’s position, currently held by Donna Madore; one of three assistant principals at Cony High School, which also serves as the city’s middle school for grades seven and eight; and both elementary school deans of students.

“We keep doing the same thing. We keep the process going and we expect different results,” Connors said. “My hope is we can change, because if we think next year the test scores are going up, but we keep doing things the same way, I don’t see how that’s going to happen.”

Superintendent James Anastasio responded that the school system previously had a curriculum coordinator but changed the role to an assistant superintendent’s position in 2012 because tasks required by the state weren’t getting done because the superintendent at the time, Cornelia Brown, didn’t have time to do them as superintendent. He said Augusta has adequate staffing to handle human resources and, though Augusta does have more teachers leaving the school system than he’d prefer, Augusta’s teacher turnover rates are no higher than those of other Maine schools.

“To paint a picture that says we have more (teachers leaving) than other people makes us look like we’re failing somewhere,” he said. “I wish people wouldn’t have these theories without backing them up, because we can’t do it that way.”

Pia Holmes, an at-large board member, said Augusta needs to add information technology, or IT, staff to work with teachers and students so students can use technology to create projects in other subject areas.

And Jason Bersani, another at-large member, said the district needs someone to be in charge of technology to oversee its implementation.

Board Chairman Ed Hastings, meanwhile, said bigger-picture discussions such as whether the school system needs to rethink how it delivers technology would be addressed better in goal-setting sessions later in the year, not while board members are faced with a deadline of finishing their work on the budget in time to get it to the City Council by the end of the month so it can be included in City Manager William Bridgeo’s proposed overall budget.

“This sounds like a tremendous discussion for goal-setting, but tonight we have this budget in front of us. We have a deadline and we need to get to it,” Hastings said.”

Board members are scheduled to meet for another budget workshop at 6 p.m. Monday.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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