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Copyright 2014 Sun Journal
Sun Journal (Lewiston, Maine)

LEWISTON -- A week after sending a $61.4 million school budget to the City Council, the School Committee got the budget back to make more cuts.

The School Committee on Monday night reluctantly approved $293,400 in cuts that would wipe out high school intramural sports and a savings account.

They weren't happy about it.

"We've already nickeled and dimed our budget," committee member Paul St. Pierre said Tuesday. "The city councilors are determined to have no tax increase. They don't really care how we get there."

So far, committee members have cut without adversely affecting programs, "thereby not impacting kids' ability to graduate," St. Pierre said. There's no more room for more cuts, he said.

"If we put in any other cuts, they'll have to be non-academic cuts," he said. "We cannot cut more in academics without devastating programs."

City Council President Mark Cayer said the bottom line was harnessing property taxes.

"It's important we send it back to them to rethink their budget proposal," Cayer said. Councilors are worried about the mill rate going too high. It's approaching 27 mills, which puts Lewiston in a high property-tax bracket, Cayer said.

"We're one of the poorest communities in the state," he said. "That's just too difficult for our citizens." Making cuts is challenging, but "you can't overtax a poor community."

The latest cuts in the nearly $300,000 reduction include:

  • $220,000 from the reserve account, leaving $50,000;
  • $19,267 in athletics, leaving no intramural sports at the high school, and $5,000 less for field maintenance, dues and fees;
  • $20,000 from facilities and $6,740 from association dues;
  • $10,393 from instruction. St. Pierre said school principals next week will decide the best places to cut without hurting students; and
  • $17,000 from course reimbursement to teachers, leaving only reimbursements to help a teacher achieve recertification or to meet a district need.

Cutting money from savings is "a tremendous bone of contention," St. Pierre said. "If anything happens at all next year that costs money, we have no funds."

Having $50,000 for savings with a budget the size of Lewiston schools "is less than one half of one percent," he said. "It's like a roll of the dice" that more money won't be needed.

Eliminating intramural sports at the high school will have some impact on students, but most also play on junior or varsity teams, high school Athletics Director Jason Fuller said. The intramural program is a filler, he said, and he was unsure of the number of students who participate. "The largest participation we have is between seasons."

Fuller was concerned about the cuts he's had to make this year in athletics, about $85,000. "It's becoming very difficult. The biggest concern is funding uniforms."

To make up for cuts, students next year will be asked to pay $10 to play each sport. Sports fans will pay more to attend games, gate fees will go up from $3 to $5 for adults, and from $2 to $3 for students. The extra money "will go directly into an account" to buy uniforms, Fuller said.

The budget approved April 21 by the School Committee would have meant an annual property tax increase of $46.50 on a $150,000 home. The just-reduced school budget would mean an annual property tax increase of $22.50 on that same home.

The City Council is scheduled to vote on the budget May 6.

The budget goes to a citywide referendum May 13.

bwashuk@sunjournal.com

 

May 1, 2014

 

 
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