Auburn voters pass school budget

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AUBURN — Voters passed a $34.7 million school budget Tuesday, 556-404.

A second, nonbinding question on the ballot asked whether the budget was too high or too low; 158 said it should be increased; 279 said it should be decreased.

Approval means the school budget for 2011-12 is up 1.5 percent from the current $34.1 million budget, but it reduces local education taxes by $181,000.

School spending is up and property tax reliance is down because the School Department is using $855,000 from its emergency savings account and because Auburn received more money for education from the state.

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The budget does not cut sports but does eliminate nine positions. Superintendent Tom Morrill said that will result in three teacher layoffs: Cameron Sutton, who teaches at the Auburn Land Lab, and special education teachers Eric Westbye and Nicole Gardner. The Auburn School Department employs about 600 people, 314 of whom are teachers.

The new budget will create a summer school program to help prevent high school students from dropping out, but the program will be smaller than proposed. The budget retains initiatives to boost learning at the elementary, middle and high school levels. It adds an English Language Learner teacher at Park Avenue Elementary School and an ELL education technician at the high school. The immigrant student population has grown from 160 to 200 in the past year.

Morrill said late Tuesday that he was pleased that voters passed the budget, and said, “This is the third year of no tax increase based on the school budget.”

Voter turnout for the school budget was among the largest Auburn has seen. “That’s a good thing,” Morrill said. “This is a very important vote.”

The budget will allow “the good work that has been done to continue. We want to maintain and grow vibrant schools,” Morrill said.

City Clerk Roberta Fogg said voter turnout was steady all day, starting with four people waiting to vote when the polls opened at 7 a.m.

Tuesday’s vote followed a controversial budget process between the School Committee and the City Council.

In April, the committee approved a budget with a 5 percent increase and approved iPad 2 tablet computers for all kindergarten students this fall.

Both moves angered councilors and some citizens. The council, which has the duty to set the level of school spending, cut the budget, basically sending a budget to voters that was the same as the current year.

After he voted Tuesday, K.C. Geiger said he appreciated the council’s action and voted to support the budget.

“A flat school budget is appropriate,” he said. “I didn’t like the school board wanting a 5 percent increase.” The council’s action “was fair,” he said.

Brian Dimitri and T.L. Mikesell also voted for the budget. Dimitri, a high school teacher, said investing in education is critical to attracting business to the community. Mikesell said it’s important “to support our teachers more, and our workers.”

Sheryl and George Mathews voted against the budget.

“It’s too much money. They still have a lot of fat in there,” said Sheryl Mathews, a retired teacher.

Her husband said iPads for kindergartners affected his decision not to support the budget.

“What they’re saying is, ‘We’re going ahead and get them now, but we’ll decide how to pay for them later,’” George Mathews said. “That doesn’t make much sense.”

bwashuk@sunjournal.com

Do you favor approving the Auburn school budget for the upcoming school year adopted by the Auburn City Council?

YES — 556

NO — 404

If you voted NO, should the school budget be increased or decreased?

INCREASED — 158

DECREASED — 279

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