Auburn schools: Raises, higher health costs could boost budget

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AUBURN — Raises for teachers and other school employees, higher health insurance costs and bigger MaineCare bills for out-of-district special ed students are three reasons why Auburn’s school budget could go up July 1.

Those costs, plus projected increases for Auburn students attending public charter schools and more classroom supplies could mean $1.6 million more in expenses for the 2014-15 budget.

The raises account for $537,000, health insurance $528,000, MaineCare bills $214,000, charter schools $134,000 and classroom supplies $161,438.

And that’s not quite everything, Superintendent Katy Grondin said Tuesday.

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On Wednesday night, the School Committee is scheduled to finish going over all of the 10 cost centers.

Meanwhile, school districts are waiting for the Maine Department of Education to release projections on how much state money school districts can expect. Expectations are that it will be the same as last year. Department of Education spokeswoman Samantha Warren said Tuesday estimates should be released next week.

In preparing the new budget, Grondin said she didn’t make cuts or add big items.

“There’s nothing new in there,” she said.

Her budget doesn’t add staff or reduce classroom size. It does continue initiatives to improve student learning, such as individualized learning and more technology, such as iPads for third-graders this fall. It will be up to School Committee members to make big cuts or additions.

“I’m showing what our needs are to run our School Department,” Grondin said.

The School Committee has adopted a goal of presenting voters with a reasonable budget that will be supported by voters and continues customized learning.

The current school budget is $37.12 million, approved in a third vote Aug. 20, 2013. Residents rejected budgets in May and July, saying they were too high.

To get a budget passed in August, staff went without cost-of-living raises and step raises, Grondin said. That’s why the projected amount set aside for contract negotiations with teachers “looks large,” Grondin said. “We have to backfill.”

The $416,614 for contract negotiations may not be the final number as negotiations are ongoing, she said.

For health insurance, last year costs rose 13 percent. That same percentage is being budgeted for this budget. “We’re hoping it isn’t that much,” Grondin said.

Another new expense is $16,000 for the New England Association of Schools and Colleges visiting team for Edward Little High School’s accreditation, which expires this year. “For an accreditation visit you have to pay for their hotels,” Grondin said.

Also this year, Grondin is budgeting $161,438 more for classroom supplies across the district. Voters and School Committee members complained last year they shouldn’t be hearing about teachers sending home lists for classroom supplies, or that teachers should not have to pay for items out of their own pockets. Grondin said she asked teachers how much they needed for basic supplies, and included that in the proposed budget.

The $134,000 for charter schools is another rising expense in case more students leave Auburn schools and enroll in a taxpayer-supported charter school. When that happens, the state and local money follows the student.

Auburn has 10 students attending two charter schools at an annual cost of about $70,000. Nine Auburn students attend the Baxter Charter School in Portland and one is at the Fiddlehead Charter School in Gray.

If a proposal for a Lewiston-Auburn Academy Charter School is approved when the state charter commission votes on March 3 in Augusta, it could mean more students leave Auburn schools, Grondin said. “I may have to raise that number.”

bwashuk@sunjournal.com

Auburn school budget schedule

For more details on the Auburn School Department 2014-15 budget, visit www.auburnschl.edu/pages/Auburn School Department/Budget.

The School Committee will hold public workshops on the budget at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 26, March 5 and March 12 at Auburn Hall.

A public hearing will be held at 7 p.m. March 19 at Auburn Hall.

The School Committee will meet with the City Council on March 20.

A budget meeting will be held March 26.

The School Committee is scheduled to approve the budget April 2.

The public will vote on the budget June 10.

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