AUBURN — After Auburn voters rejected a school budget on June 11, the Auburn School Committee approved a smaller budget Wednesday night, cutting items like maintenance and rejecting the creation of new positions.
The second school budget proposal is $37.67 million, a 4.9 percent increase from 2012-13. The budget defeated by voters on June 11 was $38.3 million, a 6.9 percent increase from 2012-13.
The new budget doesn't move the school department forward, according to Superintendent Katy Grondin. “We're running on the bare minimum. People are working really hard to use the resources to the best of our ability to make sure the students” get the education they need, she said.
The proposed budget does not include as dramatic changes to students that committee members considered on June 12. The East Auburn Community School will not be closed, and students will not be forced into pay-to-play sports or participation in other activities.
Still in this second budget is expanding the iPad tablet computer program. Second-graders will get iPads this fall at a cost of $109,000. Kindergarten and first-grade students already have iPads, and this fall, Grades 7-12 will receive iPads instead of more costly laptop computers. Also in the budget is the position of the popular land lab teacher, Jim Chandler.
Maintenance is taking a $200,000 hit, which will leave $100,000 in the budget for maintaining six elementary, one middle, one alternative and one high school.
The school department has been criticized for not doing enough to take care of schools.
“I totally understand that,” Superintendent Katy Grondin said. But putting off maintenance will help preserve programs for students, she and committee chairman Tom Kendall said Thursday.
Ward 5 School Committee member Larry Pelletier said the budget “makes sense for the spot we're in. I was not in favor of making any of the cuts. Neither is a majority of the committee.” But, he said, “the people spoke.”
The new budget proposal is the direction the public and the Auburn City Council gave the school department, Kendall said. "I don't think we're supportive of the fact we're not improving our position with Essential Programs and Services. It's setting us back a little."
The newest spending plan means Auburn schools are $2.2 million under Essential Programs and Services, the state formula that shows the minimum towns should spend on local education.
“We're not creating a bigger gap, but we're not filling in the gap,” Grondin said. “Next year, we'll have to (make up) 33 percent of the gap,” she said, referring to a new state law that says in three years, municipalities not spending the minimum under EPS will have to spend more or lose state education dollars.
Auburn's new list of spending reduction includes no layoffs. People in two jobs that are being cut, an elementary school librarian and a middle school secretary, have found other jobs in the school department.
Proposed spending which will now not happen included the addition of an elementary school nurse, two instructional coaches and a cultural broker for students from immigrant families; some course reimbursement to teachers; the replacement of the library, a school bus and textbooks; and the creation of shirts for kindergarten students, printed with their high school graduation year to promote aspiration. Travel will be cut, and there will also be a salary freeze for seven non-union administrators. That includes Grondin, whose annual $115,000 salary will be frozen.
Built into this new budget plan is $300,000 in casino revenue that Auburn is expected to receive from the state. The school department will use $170,000 of that amount to shift the costs of school police officers from the city budget to the school budget, which will slightly increase EPS spending with existing spending.
The remaining $129,000 difference will be used to reduce the burden on taxpayers, Grondin said, which will help reduce the mill rate for education by 35 cents.
“The school committee collaborated with the city to shift costs, reduced the mill rate, so we're trying to respond” to voters, Grondin said. “The community is not ready to make a larger commitment.”
As planned, the second school budget will be sent to the Auburn City Council and then to voters at a July 23 referendum.