The proposed Auburn school budget will be online Friday at

AUBURN — After two years of cutting school budgets, Auburn Superintendent Tom Morrill says it’s time to start spending: He’s recommending an increase of 5.1 percent.

Auburn must reverse the trend of smaller annual budgets and do more for students, Morrill said Thursday.

“It’s inevitable that we talk about budget increases because we’ve been flat for the past two years,” he said.

“We do require a level of funding to bring services to kids that they need,” he said. “We now are at the point if we reduce any more, we’re at a tipping point. Removing anything will mean less critical service to kids. We simply can’t do that in good faith.”

Among spending increases, Morrill would like to fund a summer school program to encourage more students to graduate and creat 16½ new positions, including a Somali school liaison, a school nurse and four reading teachers.

He would like to spend $90,000 each at Auburn Middle School and Edward Little High School to update curriculum and improve learning, in part to take advantage of new technology.

For the fiscal year that begins July 1, Morrill is proposing a budget of $35.92 million, up from the current $34.16 million budget; that budget is lower by $30,000 than the year before.

The impact on property taxes of the proposed spending hike was not yet known, Morrill said, adding that revenue amounts could change. He estimated a tax increase of between $55 and $147 per year on an average Auburn house valued at $160,000.

“We’ll know more in April,” he said.

A current trend is personalized services, and that has to happen in education, Morrill said. “What we have to do is make that leap, make sure that student learning is personalized because there are no two learners exactly the same.”

Auburn schools have to take advantage of technology that allows students to learn in different ways, he said.

“It’s not going to be long before students are taking 50 percent of their learning online,” he said. “We’ll still have teachers, but think about the changes that have occurred in the past five years. The next five are going to bring remarkable changes.”

Auburn was bracing for a $1.6 million cut in state aid because the federal stimulus money has come to an end, which means $58 million less for schools statewide.

But Gov. Paul LePage has increased funding to schools during the next two years by $63 million. Instead of the $1.6 million cut, Auburn faces a $500,000 cut, Morrill said.

The biggest cost hikes in the new spending plan are salary and benefits, which are expected to be 1.5 percent more and add up to $551,291. That number includes $78,501 in savings from an estimated five teachers who are retired and will be replaced by lower-paid teachers.

Another increased cost is heating oil, up 35.8 percent, which comes to $136,713 more. Electricity and natural gas expenses stayed flat.

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Auburn school budget timeline

The proposed $35.9 million Auburn School Budget for 2011-12 was presented to the School Committee on Wednesday night. The committee will spend the next six weeks going over the proposal. Upcoming workshop dates are March 2, 9, 16, 21, 23 and 30.

April 4: Public hearing on proposed budget.

April 6: School Committee to vote on budget and send it to City Council.

May 2: City Council to vote on budget.

May 10: Residents will vote in school budget validation referendum.

July 1: New budget to take effect.

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