Expenses up 5.6 percent in Auburn school budget

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AUBURN — Costs are up 5.6 percent in a proposed 2014-15 budget before the School Committee.

Superintendent Katy Grondin has gone over expenses showing it would cost $2.09 million more to maintain existing programs. It does not mean the existing $37.12 million budget would go up 5.6 percent, because school officials do not yet know how much state money will go to schools.

Grondin said the 5.6 percent increase would maintain individualized (customized) lessons, give workers cost-of-living and step raises that they went without last year and provide more classroom supplies.

“It would maintain the high quality” in Auburn schools, and move the district closer to its vision of providing a world-class education, Grondin said.

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The School Committee, which will adopt a budget to be voted on by the public June 10, reacted Thursday to the proposed increase.

In this day and age, a 5.6 percent increase is too high,” said City Councilor Mary LaFontaine, who is the mayor’s representative on the  committee. “I don’t have a good picture yet of where I would like to see reductions,” she said. She’s not in favor of taking money out of teacher salaries or classroom resources, “so that doesn’t leave a lot.”

Could non-education services such as information technology and human resources be shared with the city or privatized, LaFontaine asked. “Do we have too many buildings? I don’t know,” she said.

School Committee member Larry Pelletier said he didn’t know whether the increase was too high. Budget talks are just getting started, he said. He is concerned about protecting Auburn’s alternative high school, the Franklin School, because Lewiston Superintendent Bill Webster has proposed pulling Lewiston students out, which could hurt the program, Pelletier said.

School Committee Chairwoman Tracey Levesque said the public needs to understand the overall budget may not be 5.6 percent higher. Labor contracts are still in negotiations, revenue estimates from the state are not yet available and the final cost of health insurance is not known.

“It really is hard to say what changes would be made, if any,” Levesque said. The committee will hear about expenses and revenues, “then decide where to go from there,” she said.

During budget discussions Wednesday night, committee member Bonnie Hayes asked how student busing had gone since the committee voted to privatize with Northeast Charter.

It’s going very well,” said Business Manager Jude Cyr. Students and parents haven’t noticed any differences in terms of service, he said.

Auburn schools still own the buses; the district would not want to sell the buses only to have to buy an entire fleet if a decision were made to no longer privatize, Cyr said.

The committee voted in August 2013 to eliminate transportation department positions, including 23 bus drivers, three bus aides and a mechanic, to save money by no longer providing health care for part-time drivers.

The projection was that $300,000 would be saved, but in the first year only $100,000 was saved because of legal fees, contracts that had to be fulfilled, severance pay and higher fuel costs, Cyr said. Next year, another $186,000 is expected to be saved, Cyr said.

LaFontaine said she had hoped the savings would have been bigger. She questioned whether the savings are big enough, “just to save money on bus driver salaries and benefits.”

Many of the higher expenses are from raises for teachers, administrators and other school workers who went without raises last year, and for health insurance costs projected to go up 13 percent. Also, higher MaineCare costs for out-of-district special education students, more classroom supplies, two new buses and and lost revenue from Auburn students attending public charter schools.

bwashuk@sunjournal.com

Auburn offering free classes on budgets, schools

AUBURN — Go to class to learn what goes on in Auburn schools? That’s the promise from Auburn School Department administrators, who are offering free classes to the public about what the School Department does, from how the budgets work to how technology is used in classrooms.

The workshops are being offered after complaints last year from some residents that school officials weren’t doing enough to keep the public informed about budgets, spending and programs.

There will be four workshops, the first two on Tuesday nights, the second two on Thursday nights. For more information or to register, call Auburn Adult Education at 333-6661. Each will be from 6 to 8 p.m. at Edward Little High School.

* March 4: “Overview of school finance, technology and effective teaching,” and how all that relates to the district’s mission of “empowering lifelong learners to succeed in a world yet imagined.” Led by Curriculum Director Shelly Mogul.

* March 11: “A night in an Auburn school classroom”; participants will experience work, including technology, that goes into an effective classroom. Led by Mogul.

* March 20: “Learn about the budgeting process for Auburn schools”; get an inside look, from decisions to offer certain programs to state and federal mandates. Led by Business Manager Jude Cyr.

* March 27: “Technology in the classroom”; join staff as they allow the public to experience iPads and other technology just as students and teachers do. Led by technology guru Peter Robinson.

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