AUBURN — Retiree Priscilla Miller voted against the Auburn school budget last month and in June.

When she goes to the polls Tuesday — the third time this year — Miller said she’ll vote yes.

“I don’t think they have it where it should be,” Miller said. “The deal is, it shouldn’t be more than 1.7 percent (increase a year),” Miller said. “I wish they would maintain that.”

But she acknowledged the budget has been cut twice since voters rejected it twice.

“They’re getting closer,” she said. “This is the third vote. I’m willing to vote yes.”

In the third school budget referendum this year, the amount voters will decide on is $37.12 million, which represents no increase to property taxes for education.

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The budget is $1.2 million higher than last year’s $35.9 million. Reasons for the increased spending include higher health care costs and shifts in state policy for teacher pensions and special education. Auburn’s higher costs are being covered by an increase of $1.2 million from the Maine Department of Education.

Meanwhile, Auburn’s school budget has been cut considerably in the last two months.

After the $38.3 million budget was rejected June 11, the budget was cut by $856,000.

After the $37.6 million budget was rejected July 23, it was cut by another $500,000, Superintendent Katy Grondin said.

Still in the budget are iPads for grades K-2 and 7-12, the Auburn Land Lab teacher and other programs.

“Students will not feel the impact,” Grondin said. “Programs have been maintained.” The budget was designed to be what taxpayers could afford, “and to still provide a high-quality education; that was a key focus.”

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What’s been cut are $500,000 from salary lines for an upcoming teacher contract, which expires Aug. 31. That means the School Department will have less money to negotiate with.

Uunless we find it elsewhere,” Grondin said.

Also cut are things the Auburn School Committee put in the first budget that was rejected, such as a few new positions and $2 million to do more in building maintenance.

Another cut is in the transportation department: 22 bus drivers, four bus aides, one mechanic and the transportation director. To save $300,000 a year, the Auburn School Department has privatized its bus drivers, which the Lewiston School Department has done for years.

Grondin expects most of the drivers and other transportation workers will be hired by Northeast Charter, which has been granted a contract to provide transportation to Auburn schools. She said Tuesday that 19 drivers have accepted positions with Northeast Charter.

Except for the transportation jobs, there are no layoffs in the budget, Grondin said. There are a few positions eliminated, including a school secretary and elementary librarian. People in jobs that were eliminated have found other positions, she said.

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What the budget doesn’t address is a new state law that says all Maine schools must fund education at set minimum levels by 2016-17, the so-called Essential Programs and Services formula.

For years, the state has told communities they could underfund education according to the EPS formula, since the state wasn’t fully funding education. In 2016-17, under the new state law, LD 667, districts will have to pay 100 percent of their required EPS share to get their full share of education money from the state.

According to the EPS formula, in June, Auburn was underfunding education by $2.2 million a year, Lewiston by $3.1 million and Oxford Hills by $2.28 million. The new law says districts will have to begin spending more in 2014-15.

Miller, the retiree who reluctantly plans to vote for Auburn’s budget today, expressed frustration with the EPS law.

“Who in Augusta is telling us we have to spend more?” she asked. When the state isn’t funding education at 100 percent, “there’s something terribly wrong. They’re taking a community like this — we’re not a rich community — and telling us how much to spend on schools.”

Counting both the city and school budgets, Auburn’s new 2013-14 budget calls for $73.7 million in total spending, which translates to a $3,049 tax bill for a $150,000 home — an increase of $111 compared to 2012-13.

Miller said she, like others, is anxious about her property tax bill. “I’ve been worried sick about how much I need to pay my taxes.”

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