AUGUSTA — The Board of Education approved a $30.8 million school budget in a 4-2 vote Wednesday.

The proposed $30.8 million school budget, up by about 6 percent over the current year, would require about $1 million more from local taxpayers, an 8 percent increase from the current year.

The budget still awaits approval by the City Council, as part of the overall city and school budget. Board members expressed concern that city councilors might turn the budget back to the school board, and order it to be cut.

Board members voting for the budget at Wednesday night’s 20-minute meeting said they are prepared to deal with that if they have to, but they feel the budget is sound and the proposed expenditures within it are needed.

“I am in support of this budget. I trust the administration and educators of our schools, that they’ve made recommendations to us that have been sound and prudent,” said Staci Fortunato, Ward 1 board member. “I understand there may be push-back and I’m willing to stand behind it and support our school system and our staff and our students to make sure we can have the best school that we can have.”

The budget was almost exactly as proposed by Superintendent James Anastasio and other administrators in February, other than the addition of two kindergarten teachers, instead of three kindergarten teachers initially proposed, according to Edward Hastings, board chairman.

Chris Clarke, Ward 2, and Tom Connors, at large, were the two votes against the budget.

Connors said he couldn’t support the budget in part because he feels the school budget process needs to be refined so board members have more time to propose and discuss changes to it.

“Getting it in February and trying to pass it in six weeks, to me, is a little overwhelming,” Connors said. “We’re asking for an incredible, to me, a significant increase.”

Clarke urged board members to consider asking city councilors for more time to discuss the budget. He said he is certain councilors will send the school spending plan back to the board to make cuts. He said he wanted to make cuts, including to the number of new social workers, from two to one, and number of new kindergarten teachers, to one, included in the budget to bring it down to a 3.5 percent increase; but he said he met resistance to those proposals from administrators and other board members.

“It’s our job to ask the hard questions, and I don’t think we’ve done that here,” he said.

The city charter requires school officials to deliver the school budget to the city by April 1. Once the overall school and city budget is approved by councilors, the school budget portion goes to voters in a referendum that usually takes place in June.

Kati McCormick, Ward 4 board member, said she too would like to see the budget process changed in the future. But she said she supports the budget as proposed and supports the school system’s principals and teachers.

“They’ve come to us and said, ‘This is the minimum we need to get by and do our job and do it well,'” McCormick said. “That being said, if this does happen to come back to us, I am prepared to work collaboratively with you all.”

School administrators, who have worked since at least October to put together the spending proposal, said in February the budget would initiate their new three-year goal of decreasing class sizes in elementary schools. Anastasio said that in some cases, there are as many as 26 students in a class.

The budget would require $13.6 million, or about $1 million more, from local taxpayers, a roughly 8 percent increase.

The budget would use $2.1 million in money left in the school’s unassigned fund balance, an account made up of money unspent in previous years, which Kathy Casparius, business director, said in February was the entire amount left in that account. She said some money was likely to come back into that account once final expenses were determined, but that school officials were trying to keep that account balance at less than 3 percent of the total budget.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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