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.