Closing the Lillian Park Hussey School in Augusta is one of many ideas being discussed by school officials as they look to close a multimillion-dollar budget gap projected for next year. The school, which officials say is badly in need of repairs, serves 264 students. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

AUGUSTA — City school officials are pondering several painful budget cuts to close a $6 million gap in the budget planned for next year, with ideas ranging from cutting 19 teacher positions to closing the Lillian Park Hussey Elementary School.

Next year’s budget for the Augusta school system, which serves about 2,220 students, is projected to have an increase of at least $6 million in necessary expenses, such as an increase in natural gas, electricity, and other costs like transportation and tuition for special education. 

School officials are in the hole from using $2.5 million in fund balance last year to offset the increase from last year’s inflation costs attributed to the pandemic. Officials decided to ward off the extra costs that way so taxpayers would not see an increase in their taxes.

Augusta school officials are not hopeful the city will be willing to pay an additional $1 million to $2 million for the education budget. Last year, city councilors asked the school district to cut $1 million on top of using the $2.5 million from the fund balance.

“We have to fill the hole, and not in addition,” Superintendent James Anastasio said. “The requests are $3.5 million in change above last year’s budget from what we are currently spending.” 

Anastasio said the increase in necessary expenses come from natural gas, which is around $450,000; an increase in electricity, estimated at $321,000; contract negotiations in the transportation department estimated to be around $520,000; tuition for special education estimated at $200,000; and increases to salary and wages for teachers, at $1,971,400 as part of their step increases. 


The school district will also lose $144,000 in state subsidy with the increase in town valuation. 

In all, the district has $7,572,006 in its fund budget, which is allocated from reserves and unfilled positions. There are about eight positions that were originally budgeted but were not filled this year. 

To try and close the gap, Anastasio presented four options to the Board of Education on Wednesday, all of which included taking an additional $3 million out of the fund balance.

The following four options were presented by Anastasio: 

• Taking $3 million out of the fund balance and requesting an additional $3 million from the city.

• Taking $3 million out of the fund balance, requesting $2 million from the city and enacting $1 million in cuts, which would be the equivalent of 19 teacher positions.


• Taking $3 million out of the fund balance, requesting $1.5 million from the city and cutting $1.5 million, which would equal around 28 teacher positions.

• Closing the Lillian Park Hussey Elementary School to save about $1 million, taking $3 million from the fund balance and asking for $1 million from taxation. An additional $1 million would still have to be cut from the budget, resulting in the equivalent of 19 teacher positions. 

The board agreed that the option involving closing the Hussey school would be the worst-case scenario and hopefully off the table for the year. Hussey, serving 264 students, is one of four elementary schools in the Augusta school system. Officials say the building is in bad shape and has been on a Department of Education list for years to receive funding for repairs, recently moving from No. 9 to No. 2 on that priority list. 

The priority would be to take option one and try to cut the budget down even more, which Anastasio said would be a tall order, especially with the loss of Business Manager Kathy Casparius, who resigned two weeks ago.  

Anastasio said they are in the process of “locating and understanding and figuring out background (the budget) is built on.”

The board made it clear that it wants to avoid cutting positions as much as possible and that members would rather use more of the fund balance or ask the City Council for $1 million to $2 million more. Anastasio estimated the amount of money the district spends per teacher at around $52,000, given the starting salary is around $40,000 and a single-person worth of benefits is around $10,000.


Board Member Rita Pello said she was empathetic to residents who can’t pay more in taxes, but she doesn’t want to see a reduction in Augusta School Department staff “if that means paying higher taxes to have kids go to schools that are properly-funded with staff and resources.”

Other board members said that if it came to cutting staff positions, it would take the district and its school resources “backwards” and it might be more difficult later to hire back with the shortage of positions around the state. 

Cutting teacher positions would mean larger classes for the elementary-aged students, where there are already behavior issues that need to be addressed by social and emotional professionals, board members said. 

“We already have significant safety issue, so to increase the density with more students and really pack them in, what does it do to behaviors on top of that, if we reduce ed techs and don’t have teachers with great morale from the past two tough years?” said Board Chair Amanda Olson.  

The workshop on Wednesday ended with the task for officials to cut more spending, if they can find it.

The principal of Cony High School, Kim Liscomb, said she will do her best to cut her budget further.

“We are a people business, then a building business with natural gas, electricity — all those things,” she said. “I want it to echo: it’s difficult to find something that doesn’t impact students. It comes down to things like we won’t have an eighth grade trip.”

Comments are no longer available on this story