Funding formulas making for tight school budget

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LEWISTON — The state funding formula pinching the School Department’s budget this year will pinch harder next year, school officials told the  City Council on Thursday.

Superintendent Leon Levesque outlined his proposed $51.2 million budget, which is about $400,000 less than the current budget. It calls for eliminating 11 positions, including seven to nine layoffs.

School officials have little choice: State funding percentages are going down, he said.

“(The state) did a pretty good job for the first couple of years on their pledge to pay 55 percent of the cost for education,” Levesque said. The closest the state came was last year when it was buoyed by federal stimulus money. State and federal money accounted for 52 percent of the Lewiston School Department budget.

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By 2012, Levesque said he expects state support for Lewiston schools to dwindle to 43 percent of the total budget.

“That’s why we’re doing some of the things today that we are doing,” Levesque said. That includes putting aside $607,472 in federal stimulus money for next year.

Councilors are scheduled to vote on the school budget at their Tuesday meeting. It’s scheduled to go to Lewiston voters May 11.

Levesque said the cuts are spread around the department. Two of the positions being eliminated are held by retiring teachers, including an English teacher at Lewiston High School and an elementary school special education teacher.

Five other elementary school special education jobs and four middle school teaching positions would also be eliminated, under the budget.

Two new jobs are being created; teachers scheduled to lose their jobs will be able to apply for those positions.

Councilors applauded Levesque and the school district as they criticized the state cuts.

“I don’t think people realize the hard work and long hours that go into dealing with these formulas,” Councilor Stephen Morgan said.

Levesque said he would present a plan for resurrecting Longley Elementary to the School Committee on Monday. The school is one of 10 in Maine with such persistently low test scores that the federal government is offering between $50,000 and $2 million over three years to help turn things around.

To qualify, the school would have to agree to a slate of changes, including replacing Principal Thomas Hood, who has held the position for 12 years.

staylor@sunjournal.com

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