Lewiston superintendent: Tough budget ahead

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LEWISTON — School Superintendent Bill Webster told Lewiston School Committee members to brace themselves for difficult budget decisions when he released the proposed 2014-15 budget next week.

Reasons for possible cuts in positions, programs and/or higher property taxes include expected flat funding in education dollars from the state, higher MaineCare costs and no leftover cash from last year.

Webster said he planned to release the budget proposals to committee members on Feb. 27, but said Monday he needs more time. He will deliver it to them on March 3.

“The reason is, this is a very difficult budget,” Webster said. “The proposal you will get will impact some positions. We need some time to talk to the people who will be potentially impacted. We’re not going to do that by Thursday.”

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This year, Lewiston schools is dealing with a significant increase of $1.5 million more in MaineCare costs from changes in state policy, Webster said.

“And last year, we had a $1.5 million carryover. This year, we have zero. Put those things together” and it makes for what he called, “the most difficult budget that I’ve ever been a part of.”

Typically, by this time, school districts have preliminary numbers from the Maine Department of Education on how much state funding they can expect.

“We still don’t have the report from the state,” Webster said. “It’s ordinarily released in February.” 

A Maine School Management Association notice cautioned there will be no additional money in the state budget for education, said committee Chairman Jim Handy.

“It’s going to be the most difficult budget any of us have experienced,” Handy said. “There will be no sacred cows.”

It’s important committee members be proactive in alerting people who could be impacted by position or program cuts, Handy said.

Webster told committee members that the budget he’ll give them next week will be larger than what will go to voters this spring. In the proposal will be a list of cuts on which they will have to make decisions.

In March, committee members will have to “help figure out what should the priorities be,” Webster said. “What things must be cut. What things must not be cut.”

Committee member Tom Shannon pointed out that cuts in positions or programs may bring citizens to meetings not typically attended by the public. Public comment may add to the time needed to make decisions, he said.

The committee will get a budget overview on March 5. The meeting will begin at 6:45 p.m. at the Dingley Building on Oak Street.

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