Lewiston school board approves school budget; 5.4 percent increase in property taxes

LEWISTON — The School Committee voted unanimously Monday night for a budget that would increase property taxes 5.4 percent.

For a home valued at $150,000, that would mean property taxes would go up $72 per year.

The increase is less than the 8.4 percent Superintendent Bill Webster called for March 5 when he first proposed the budget. After the City Council said an 8.4 percent increase would be too much, School Committee members approved reductions in the budget, including hiring fewer teachers and cutting course reimbursements to teachers.

The budget goes to the City Council for a vote May 7, then to voters in a May 14  referendum.

If it is approved, this would be the first time in five years the school budget has called for a significant property tax increase, Webster said.

“The budget reflects a balance in what we need educationally for Lewiston students and the city's ability to fund education,” Webster said. The spending plan would “allow us to maintain the status quo, but not expand programs.”

The one exception, he added, would be a new life skills room for special ed students at Farwell Elementary School, a move which would allow some students to be educated in the system instead of out of the district.

Committee Chairman James Handy called the property tax increase “fair. Given constraints from Augusta, this is the best we can do,” he said. Deciding the budget meant painful choices, including not hiring two new resource room teachers for special ed students, Handy said. “It's disappointing that we're having to make that cut."

The big reasons for a higher school budget include the first year's loan payment on the $9.1 bond to renovate and expand the Lewiston Middle School ($740,000), pay raises for teachers ($846,000), and 13 new positions, mostly teachers and ed techs ($501,000) to keep pace with a growing student population. Lewiston's student population of 5,139 is expected to increase another 150 students this fall.

Of those 13 positions, eight are new, the other five are not new to Lewiston schools but are new to the city budget as they've been paid for by federal money.

Overall, the recommended school budget is $58.4 million, up from the current $54.5 million. Of that, $38.5 million comes from state taxpayers, an increase of 5.4 percent over the current year; and $17.1 million comes from Lewiston property taxpayers.

While the state is giving Lewiston more money for education, two changes in state policy mean Lewiston, like all districts, will get less.

The state is proposing to mandate local school districts begin paying toward future teacher pensions, which means a $696,000 bill to Lewiston. The state has also proposed shifting a Medicaid expense for special ed students it used to cover. For Lewiston that expense is $400,000.

In other action, the committee:

* Approved field trip requests for Lewiston Regional Technical Center students to attend national culinary competition next week in Baltimore.

* Expelled two unnamed students from Lewiston High School.

* Accepted the resignation of committee member Robert Connors, who is leaving for health reasons.


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 's picture

Time to nix the LMS addition out front?

Voters probably shouldn’t have voted for the first Lewiston Middle School renovation proposal that came along. A no vote would have forced them to re-consider other options that might not have included constructing the addition out front.
I won’t argue with the fact that renovating the existing school needed to happen but I suspect the proposed addition in front of the Middle School, to house primarily school administration and a library, is a significant portion of that $9M. I find it odd that renovation and addition costs were originally proposed seperately but were later combined when it came time to vote.
Going by numbers reported in the March 6th Sun Journal school budget story $60 dollars or 83% of this now $72 per $150,000 tax increase are tied to the Middle School renovation. Perhaps it's time to nix the addition out front and lower the increase to something like $35 per $150,000?
Let's not forget, we still have a municipal budget tax increase that will most likely be in addition to this school budget tax increase.

Joe Morin's picture

Once again

I think paying for all the education through property taxes is an antiquated system. A large piece of the student growth comes from residents that pay no property taxes at all. While I own an investment property in Auburn I refused to purchase my residence there. I was sick of the shenanigans there and felt like I was a victim of the school departments wishlist spending. Now after living in Lewiston for less then a year, pow 5.4% increase... I think I'm going to raise my rent on all my tenants every time my costs go up. Heat, electricity, sewerage & water, Rainwater tax, Property taxes, insurance. Owning property is an ever increasing challenge and expense that allows for confiscatory policies that tax me with any benefits.


could I get a pay increase???

Could I get a pay increase of 5.4 percent? I wish but it isn't going to happen. I have to budget within my means and it is time this city starts doing the same especially the School dept. One high school 3 pencil pushers costing over 200 thousand a year and then there are the benefits (oh don't go there). our teachers bear the punt of the teaching process not the supply clerks and punishment liaisons. then soon after the hike they will want to compete with auburn and give out whack-a-pads to kindergarten students. I know when I was in school we didn't have new books all the time, and some were quite a few years old but then again the book companies did not wine and dine the supply clerks either.


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