LEWISTON — The Lewiston School Committee unanimously approved a $51.2 million budget Monday night, about a half of million dollars less than the current budget.

The spending plan now goes to the Lewiston City Council and then to referendum.

The budget that begins July 1 will not raise property taxes, but will mean some layoffs. How many is not yet known.

The budget creates two teaching jobs and cuts 11.  Out of the 11 jobs eliminated, two teachers are retiring, so there could be seven to nine layoffs if no more resignations or retirements are announced. Those losing their jobs will be considered for the two positions being created, Superintendent Leon Levesque said.

The budget cuts one English teacher at the high school, which is a retirement; six special education teachers, one at each elementary school, one which is a retirement; and four middle school teachers.

The cuts were the result of the economy. After the state received less tax revenue, it cut education spending rather than raising state taxes.

Initially, Lewiston was to receive $353,741 less than last year from the state. In March, with tax revenue up slightly, the state increased how much it is giving schools. That means Lewiston will receive $607,472 more than expected.

Levesque recommended that $607,472 not be spent and squirreled away for next year, when a bigger cut is expected because federal stimulus money will run out.

That could leave Lewiston with a $1.5 million deficit in 2012, Levesque said. Before he retires in December, he’ll try to save more to put Lewiston schools in the best position possible to face those cuts, he said.

School Committee members liked his recommendation to save for next year.

“That’s critically important,” said committee Chairman James Handy. “We always try to plan ahead and budget responsibly.”

In past years the School Department has given the City Council money to keep property taxes from rising.

This is the first time in years that isn’t happening, “because of the economic times we’re in,” Handy said.

He called the school budget austere. “We’ve done the best we can.”

Handy said he’ll be watching the areas cut, especially the six special education teaching jobs. The elimination of four middle school teachers will mean class sizes will go from 16 or 17 students to between 19 and 22.

Committee member Sonia Taylor said the budget is balanced well, “considering how much money we have to cut back.” It is unfortunate that jobs are being eliminated, she said, but raising property taxes was not an option in this economy. The budget will have minimal impact on students, Taylor said.

The school budget will now go to the Lewiston City Council which will hold a public hearing April 29.

After that, the school budget must be approved by voters in a May 11 referendum, the same day Auburn voters decide their school spending plan.

In recent years statewide voter turnout to decide school budgets has been dismal. Because of that, voters will be asked if they want to discontinue the school budget referendum, Levesque said.

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