LEWISTON — Trying to limit property tax hikes and not hurt programs, the Lewiston School Committee listened to — but did not endorse — a list of proposed cuts from Superintendent Bill Webster on Wednesday night.

In passing out the list, Webster said the Lewiston City Council has said his original recommended budget that would raise property taxes 8.4 percent “is just too much.” He came up with cuts, such as fewer new positions.

When Webster released his proposed $58.5 million spending plan on March 5, he was calling for a budget that would mean an annual property-tax increase of $113 for a home valued at $150,000. That budget included 18 new teachers and other staff to keep pace with a growing student enrollment.

Webster now is suggesting a $58 million budget, a reduction of $500,000, with five fewer new positions.

Reductions in spending include:

* $40,000 for teacher course reimbursement. The district now spends $180,000 on course reimbursement, and has allowed reimbursements of courses that may not benefit students, Webster said. The district would pay only for courses when they directly benefit Lewiston students.

* $30,000 for a Longley Elementary education technician, a position that would be paid for by federal money.

* $98,000 by hiring only two new elementary school teachers, instead of four. That would raise the average class size from 22 students to 22.5, Webster said.

* $78,000 by not hiring two resource room positions for special education students. There is a sufficient number of resource rooms now available, but the rooms are at capacity. If the need next year grows, staff would have to be provided, “because that’s the law,” School Committee member Tom Shannon said. It would have to come from somewhere else in the budget, he said.

* $20,000 in Lewiston Middle School auditorium repairs. Webster said repairs to items such as stage weights and pulls are critical. The repairs will be done by money left over from the school expansion project at McMahon Elementary School, Webster said.

* $18,000 by not hiring two new bus monitors. The monitors were recommended to handle bus runs with student behavior issues. The monitors could be put back in the budget if other transportation savings can be found, Webster said.

Among other savings that Webster listed, but did not recommend, was cutting $284,000 for textbooks and school supplies, as well as not approving a tech assistant position, laying off a librarian and cutting a small alternative program that sends 14 students to Poland Spring Academy. Committee members indicated they did not support those cuts.

Earlier this month, Webster found $252,000 in savings, some of it due to nine teachers at the top of the pay scale retiring. Those annual salaries of $62,000 will be replaced with nine annual salaries of $37,000, Webster said. Other savings came from not buying a portable classroom at Martel Elementary, a savings of $38,000, and $28,000 worth of cuts in transportation, special education supplies and human resources.

School Committee members said they didn’t want to see any cuts but indicated they may be able to live with Webster’s suggestions.

City Council representative Donald D’Auteuil said councilors “don’t want to cut anything in the school budget. But we’re not helping people if we put people out of their houses with taxes going up.”

School Committee member Sonia Taylor said she agreed with Webster’s suggestion of spending less to reimburse courses for teachers. She’d rather cut reimbursements than textbooks, she said.

Cutting a school budget “is a matter of trying to balance all the needs for all students,” said member Paul St. Pierre. Some districts have balanced budgets by cutting spending on things such as maintenance, then find themselves unable to afford to repair or replace school buildings.

He thanked Webster for his suggested cuts. “For years, all we got was athletic cuts. It was a game,” St. Pierre said. “You’ve taken this seriously.”

Committee Chairman Jim Handy asked Webster to find out what the School Department pays to bus parochial students to St. Dominic Academy in Auburn. Handy said he wanted to look at the total-cost numbers to see whether the department is assessing the appropriate rate.

What’s next?

The Lewiston School Committee will hold another budget workshop April 3 before voting on a draft budget April 8. The budget will go to the City Council on April 25, and finally to citizens for a budget referendum May 21.


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