LEWISTON — Ward 1 City Councilor John Butler said he will push for a change in the city budget to no longer pay for parochial student busing.
The subject likely will come up when the Lewiston School Committee and the Lewiston City Council meet Monday to go over the proposed school budget.
For years, the city has paid for three buses to transport St. Dominic Academy students who live in Lewiston to the elementary school on Lisbon Street and to the high school in Auburn.
“I'm asking for two things,” Butler said Friday: that two buses that transport St. Dom students be discontinued and a third bus shared by the public and St. Dom students be covered by the School Department. That would save $126,000, Butler said.
If approved, the change would take place this fall.
“I truly feel the public sector should not pay for private school transporting," Butler said. "I don't think it's right. We're going through a tough budget year and I can drop the mill rate by 8 cents.”
The city used to pay for textbooks and testing for Catholic students in Lewiston. That support has gone away; all that's left is busing.
A similar proposal to end paying for parochial busing came up last year but was rejected.
If the city stops paying for St. Dom's busing, it would mean a higher cost to the School Department of about $70,000, because one bus is shared by public and private students, Superintendent Bill Webster said.
St. Dominic Academy Principal Don Fournier said he was unhappy to hear busing for his school could be cut.
“It's come up before. The impact would be hard for our parents who are Lewiston taxpayers,” Fournier said. Those parents would have to find alternatives to get their students to school.
“For me, it's more of a safety issue,” Fournier said. “It's safer to get kids on buses in the morning. The more cars you have, the less safe it is.” He said he was “very disappointed. We try to be good stewards.”
The Lewiston City Council is scheduled to be given a brief overview of the city budget when it meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, City Administrator Edward Barrett said. The council will work on the budget in April and May. The public is welcome to speak at Tuesday's meeting or at any of the council meetings, Barrett said.
At 6 p.m. Monday, the council and the School Committee will meet to go over the $52.7 million Lewiston school budget proposal at the Lewiston School Department office on Oak Street.
“This will be our first meeting together,” Webster said. “There won't be any decisions made. It's to share information and ideas.”
The recommended school budget represents a 2.9 percent increase over last year, but it would not raise property taxes because of an increase in education money from the state.
Of the $52.7 million proposal, $1 million more would be spent for special education; $300,000 more for English language learners; $60,000 for transportation to shift prekindergarten back to half-days; $50,000 for more adult education programs; and $30,000 to create an in-house suspension pilot program at Montello Elementary School.
Lewiston voters will have the last say on the school budget in a May 10 referendum.