Lewiston: More state money to cover most of bigger school budget

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LEWISTON — The city school budget for 2018-19 would increase nearly $10 million from this year, according to documents presented by Superintendent Bill Webster to the School Committee on Monday night.

This year’s budget of $70.8 million would increase to about $80 million, according to the figures presented.

Much of the increase would be covered by the state, Webster said.

To get the maximum amount from the Maine Department of Education, Lewiston taxpayers would have to raise about $1.2 million more than this year, according to the figures.

According to early estimates from the DOE, Lewiston would get $61 million for 2018-19, compared to $52.5 million this year.

It is the largest increase of any school district in Maine, Webster said. Lewiston stands to get more because it has a growing student population and a low property valuation.

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Property values and enrollment are two key factors in determining state education money to districts.

Also, state legislators last year boosted the amount the state spends on education, which means more money for all districts.

Add to that many Lewiston students are from economically disadvantaged families, and the city has a high number of English Language Learner students, both factors that adds more state funding.

But while more state money is good news, local taxpayers will also have to spend more.

In order to receive the full state funding, Lewiston taxpayers will have to spend $19 million next year for education, up from $17.8 million this year.

A property valued at $150,000 would be taxed an estimated $85.50 more next year.

If Lewiston does not boost the local share to $19 million, for every $250,000 the city did not spend, Lewiston would lose $750,000 in state funding, Webster said. The penalty for not spending the required minimum local share “is pretty steep,” he said.

Webster said he expects to release the budget to the public March 5.

He said he is considering spending more for classroom teachers and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teachers.

“And more social workers in our schools to meet the increasing emotional needs,” he said.

Another area for spending will likely be more in-house special education “as needs continue to escalate,” he said.

Lewiston has in-house special education programs that are less expensive than out-of-district programs, Webster said. Lewiston still has 130 special education students receiving services in private programs, he said.

Even with a bigger budget, there will be many unfunded needs, Webster said.

“The budget finally adopted probably won’t have all the teaching positions we would like,” he said. “We won’t have all the special education programs we need, that is partly due to space.”

In other matters, the committee voted to refer proposed state legislation to an administrative committee for review rather than endorse or reject it.

LD 1495 would fund an immigration resource coordinator to help with job training. It was endorsed by a 6-1 vote last week by the City Council.

James Mosher, who declined to say where he lives in Maine, spoke at length against immigrants, saying the state cannot afford them. They bring “a laundry list of demands,” he said, adding that Islamists seek a “form of warfare called civilization Jihad.”

After several minutes, committee member Luke Jensen objected, saying Mosher’s testimony was not relevant to the committee’s discussion.

Chairman Francis Gagnon eventually asked Mosher to stop speaking.

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