Fate of Lewiston school budget in voters’ hands Tuesday

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LEWISTON — The simple question at the polls Tuesday, asking voters to approve the schools’ budget, belies a more complex issue, according to Superintendent Bill Webster.

“The fact is, state population is declining and it’s something local school districts have to deal with,” Webster said Thursday. “I think it’s an issue we’ll be dealing with for years to come.”

Voters going the polls Tuesday are being asked to consider the Lewiston  Public Schools’ $49.3 million budget. The polls in Lewiston will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Multi-Purpose Center, 145 Birch St. It’s the sole-polling place for Tuesday’s vote.

It’s fairly straightforward, according to Webster. Increasing enrollment in Lewiston and lower citywide property valuation mean more financial support from the state.

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The budget, approved by the Lewiston City Council last week, reduces property taxes for the schools from $15.9 million to $15.7 million, or about 1.6 percent. Councilors are scheduled to adopt the budget for the city side by the end of the month.

But the schools’ budget still increases, buoyed by $1.3 million more in state aid to education, thanks to the rising student population. According to city records, the enrollment went from 4,729 in the 2008-09 fiscal year to 4,891 in the current year.

Lewiston is one of the few school districts with an increasing population, Webster said.

“We are fortunate because we are growing and the state does help us now,” he said. “But these are tough times and Lewiston is not the only one in a tough position.”

Educators will need to deal with that changing population patterns.

“School budgets are a zero-sum question, but the costs are a pie that needs to be split up,” Webster said. “Costs are not decreasing, so a whole lot more needs to come from local municipalities.”

In Lewiston state aid also increased because Lewiston’s overall property value came down. That’s not a reliable way to increase school budgets.

“For the short term at least, it says the local community is less capable of funding schools locally, so it’s not a good thing,” he said. “I don’t think anyone locally wants to see that happen.”

staylor@sunjournal.com

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