AUBURN — It took three votes, but voters passed a school budget Tuesday by a 2-1 ratio.
Early, unofficial returns showed the vote was 1,049 to 545, City Clerk Susan Clements-Dallaire said.
The $37.12 million spending plan is $1.2 million more than last year, but because Auburn is receiving more state money for education, it represents no increase in property taxes for education.
Auburn Superintendent Katy Grondin said Tuesday night that this year "has been a difficult budget season. Although the budget has been approved, we will have to endure the impact of $1.3 million reduction from the original proposed budget."
Grondin added that now is a time "to move forward and to open the doors for the first day of school" on Aug. 28. That is, she said, the ultimate goal, "to provide the best possible education for all of our students."
Former City Councilor Ron Potvin, who has advocated for lower spending and is running for the School Committee, said the budget season has been an education for the city of Auburn.
"Taxpayers have learned their vote does count. The school committee has learned not to proposed an inflated budget for no reason." He complained the school department has tried "to get more than they need," that recent cuts in the budget approved Tuesday could have been made months ago. School officials "now know it's not just a bunch of cranky city councilors, that the public will be keeping tabs."
The budget will have to be increased next year to confirm to a state law that says muncipalities have to spend minimal amounts for education under the so-called Essential Programs and Services formula or lose state eduation money. But the budget should not be higher than necessary, he said.
Comments from people who voted Tuesday hinted that more were voting yes than the last two elections when higher school budgets were rejected.
"I voted yes," Roger Aube said. "As long as they're not raising my taxes, I'm fine with it. I voted no both times before."
After voting no twice this year, Bill Wing said he voted yes Tuesday. Ditto for Jeanne and Ronaldo Morneault.
"I think they made a good effort,” she said. “It's a reasonable budget they're proposing.
Her husband voted yes this time because if he voted no, “they probably would have thought I wanted more money spent,” he said. Though he voted yes, “definitely the budget is still too high.”
Ruth Estes, Sissy Ventrone and Angela Jalbert each said they voted yes. “If we don't support education how is society going to progress?” Ventrone asked.
Jalbert said she voted yes for the third time this year. “I have two kids in the system," she
The budget rejected on July 23 was $37.6 million; the one rejected June 11 was $38.3 million. Since June, the School Committee cut $1.3 million. Still in the budget are iPads for students, the Auburn Land Lab position and most programs that directly impact students.
Among the spending cuts are building maintenance, some positions, privatizing busing to Northeast Charter, and $500,000 from salaries that may have been used for teacher raises during current negotiations.
That means the School Department will have less money to negotiate with “unless we find it somewhere,” Grondin said.