Council cautions on rise in jobs

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LEWISTON – Councilors are expecting calls for school budget cuts, even though the proposed budget doesn’t increase property taxes.

It does call for 13 more teachers, and that could be tough to defend.

“I think that will be hard to swallow,” said City Councilor Mark Paradis. “No matter how it gets written up in the paper, you’re talking about 13 new people, and that’s a lot.”

Superintendent Leon Levesque presented the school’s budget to councilors Tuesday night. Among the new instructors are six language teachers for non-English speaking students.

Each is justified, school committee members said.

“You are welcome to visit the classrooms, and that could make our case,” said committeeman Norm Prevost. Classrooms in some schools have as many as 28 students per teacher.

“When was the last time any of you were in a classroom?” Prevost asked. “If you went, you’d see for yourselves.”

The schools plan increases the budget from $38.9 million to $41.4 million, a 6.4 percent increase. Most will be covered by an increase in state aid to education. Property taxes for the schools will stay at $13.9 million, with no increase compared to last year.

Councilors admitted they had very little say over the school budget. By charter, they can only approve the property tax amount.

“All we can look at is the bottom line,” said Councilor Normand Rousseau. “The rest, the line item stuff, is entirely up to the School Committee.”

Now councilors will begin working on the city’s proposed budget. City Administrator Jim Bennett said councilors will begin talking about ways to trim the $41.7 million budget he presented in March. They have two meeting scheduled next week, a regular meeting on Tuesday and a budget workshop on Thursday, April 20.

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