AUGUSTA — The Board of Education approved a $31.6 million budget Wednesday, a $1.1 million, or 3.6 percent, increase over the current year that would add teachers and other staff officials say are necessary to provide a quality education and ensure students and their teachers are safe.

The budget would require $13.8 million from local property taxpayers, a $456,000, or 3.4 percent, increase, over the current year’s budget.

When he first presented the budget to the school board, Superintendent James Anastasio said about $630,000 in new funding was included that was needed to address an increasing number of problems affecting the quality of education including concerns about safety and the ability to focus on classroom learning as behavioral issues escalate and take time away from academics and more students come to school unprepared to learn.

Board members voted 6-1 Wednesday to approve the total proposed budget of more than $31.6 million.

The budget includes $60,000 board members voted 5-2 to add to the budget Wednesday, on a motion from Mike Michaud, Ward 3 board member, to add a technology integrator to oversee the implementation of computers and other technology throughout the school district.

“I’ve done a lot of research and talked to several people and come to the conclusion a technology integrator is very, very important to this school district,” Michaud said. “Math doesn’t change, English doesn’t really change, a lot of these subjects don’t change, but technology does change. It will be the job of this position to bring all that information to teachers so they can bring it to students. That’s important. In my eyes, as important as adding another teacher.”

Staci Fortunato, Ward 1 board member and the lone vote against the total budget, cited the concerns Anastasio had highlighted last month in explaining the priorities in the budget — adding staff members to make sure students and the staff are safe and in a good environment to learn. She said adding a technology position might be a good idea, but with funding tight, she worried that adding the position would mean taking away another that might work in a classroom and help reduce class sizes or address behavioral problems.

“My concern is if this goes in (to the budget), something is going to have to come out,” she said. “We’ve heard from administrators and staff that safety is paramount. I have more concerns about what’s happening in the classroom.”

The budget also is subject to approval by city councilors, as part of the overall city and school budget, and by voters in a budget validation referendum that usually takes place in June.

City councilors can, and often do, direct the school board to make reductions to the school budget after the board has approved it.

The school budget includes additional staff spending recommendations that came from a group of school administrators who put together a budget plan for the next three school years. Anastasio said the budget additions are meant to address mounting concerns about larger societal changes also showing up in schools.

Staff additions in the budget include two new first-grade teachers to help keep class sizes down, at a cost of $136,000; a mathematics “interventionist” to help younger students struggling in mathematics ($45,000); and an additional half-time English teacher and social studies teacher at Cony High School ($68,000).

It also includes funding for four educational technician slots, two of which were previously funded by federal dollars and two of which would be new positions to work with special education students ($155,000); a licensed clinical professional counselor to provide counseling to middle and high school students ($68,000); and full-time deans at two elementary schools ($69,000).

The school budget is scheduled to be reviewed by city councilors April 9.

 

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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