AUBURN — If passed by voters, a $2.5 million cut in the proposed school budget made by the City Council on April 25 would mushroom to a larger $6.7 million cut due to a loss of state funds that would be “devastating” to students, the School Committee was told Wednesday night.
Superintendent Tom Morrill explained that kind of cut would mean no sports at the high school, no sports at the middle school, all Auburn students would attend school four days a week in the winter to save on heating costs, and kindergarten students would go to school half days instead of full days.
With the City Council's $2.5 million cut from the proposed budget, it would mean that local taxpayers would pay less for education. That local spending would not meet the minimum expected from the state, however.
When that happens, the state penalizes the school district by cutting the revenue it would have given.
As the school budget now stands with the council's vote, it means that the $2.5 million cut triggers a $4.2 million loss in state money, for a total $6.7 million reduction.
That would reduce the budget from the existing school spending of $34.1 million to $29.17 million. To put that in perspective, the school budget in 2007-08 was $33.7 million.
With a $29.17 million budget, cuts would include closing the land lab, an elementary school library and some two dozen teachers and staff would be laid off. Adult ed courses would be cut.
All those cuts and others total $3 million. That's less than half of the $6.7 million of needed cuts, committee member Thomas Kendall said. “So these cuts don't even make up half of what we'd have to cut.”
“You are correct,” Morrill said. The problem grows when the city goes below the minimum spending for education expected by the state, and the state responds by withholding money, he said. “I don't mean for you to take any action, but it's something we'll need to consider when we meet in May.”
Committee members were outraged.
“This is the problem when saying '$2.5 million across the board' without giving any thought to the repercussions," Susan Gaylord said.
"Here we are stuck with something that's going to destroy the educational system in Auburn. People are outraged about iPads?” Gaylord said, referring to citizens who filled the room to oppose giving iPad 2s to kindergartners this fall. “They ought to be outraged about this. This is going to be far more devastating. We should be hearing from the citizens about this, and so should the City Council.”
She called the City Council's cut the “most pathetic demonstrating of lack of caring about education I've ever seen.”
Bonnie Hayes asked with that kind of School Department, "Why would any business want to locate here?” A good school system is an economic driver in a community, she said. “This is going to an economic driver that is going to drive businesses out.”
Hayes asked if the council wants Auburn to close its school system “and tuition our kids to Lewiston? I say that in tongue in cheek. It's almost what they're asking us to do.”
Representing the Small Property Owners of Auburn, Ron Potvin said his group will ask the council to reconsider so that the School Department doesn't suffer a loss of state funding. The council's cut “was an error in calculation.”
City Councilor Belinda Gerry, who was among the four who voted for the cut, said the School Committee bears some of the blame.
A majority of the council made it clear earlier in the proceedings that the city could not afford a school budget with a 5 percent increase.
“I was willing to listen if you guys came back with a compromise.” That didn't happen, Gerry said. “You guys were holding firm. Two days later we read about those iPads in the paper. We got blindsided by that.”
Gerry said she doesn't want Auburn to lose state money for education, but she “does not know where this is going.” It will be up to the voters, she said.
The school budget referendum in Auburn is scheduled for May 17.