LEWISTON — The proposed 2014-15 Lewiston school budget that Superintendent Bill Webster unveiled Tuesday includes higher property taxes, cuts in sports and the loss of 26 positions which would mean dozens of classes with more students.

Property taxes would go up about $126 for a home valued at $150,000. That estimate does not count the municipal part of Lewiston’s overall budget.

Calling it a “survival budget,” Webster said he “does not pretend this budget meets the education needs of Lewiston children, nor do I promote it as something Lewiston can afford.”

It is a budget between a rock and a hard place, he said. “It’s the worst budget situation I’ve ever been in.”

He’s proposing a budget of $60.76 million, a 3.2 percent increase, but that’s including $2.1 million worth of cuts.

Reasons for the increase include $1.2 million in raises, $240,000 in health insurance benefits and MaineCare costs for out-of-district special education students, which have grown by $1.5 million in the past year, combined with no money left in savings.

The district spent the $1.5 million in savings last year to keep taxes from going higher. Loss of that so-called “carryover” is big, Webster said. “So even if our costs were exactly the same, that would be a $1.5 million tax increase.”

Webster has come up with “the list,” proposed cuts he’s asking the public and the School Committee to evaluate. “I don’t pretend for a moment any one of these cuts is good, or that any one of them will be approved,” he said.

On the list is a 25 percent reduction in sports at the middle and high schools. He’s asked Athletic Director Jason Fuller for recommendations on what a 25 percent cut would mean.

“We will consider such things as, should this sport be offered at all, or should this sport be offered but not provide transportation?” Webster said. “Those are things we need to have discussions on.”

Fuller said Tuesday, “I’m trying to save sports. I’m spreading that cut across the board. And yes, I’m looking at ways to bring money in.”

The 26 positions on the chopping block include 10 classroom teachers. That would mean two fewer teachers at Farwell Elementary, two fewer at Lewiston Middle School and two fewer at Lewiston High School, among other cuts. Fewer teachers would increase class sizes, Webster said.

For example, Farwell this year has three kindergarten classes with 16 or 17 students in each. The list proposes that next year Farwell would have two kindergarten classes with 24 students in one, 25 in another. MacMahon this year has four grade-five classrooms. The list says that next year it would have three grade five classrooms with class sizes rising from 18 to 21.

Cutting the positions is not expected to result in layoffs, Webster said. “We have 15 retirements that we know about.” He expects another 15 teachers or staff will leave because of retirements or people moving to other jobs. The cuts mean some teachers could be moved to different classrooms or schools.

Other cuts on the list include a 25 percent reduction in student clubs and activities, and the elimination of one pre-kindergarten class. “That would mean 32 pre-K students couldn’t attend school,” Webster said.

Also on the list is a special education supervisor, one resource room teacher, one bus monitor, fewer equipment and software purchases and one clerical position in central office.

A pay freeze would be given to top administrators, including Webster, assistant superintendent Tom Jarvis and Chief Academic Officer Sue Martin.

The budget does add new positions and two new programs, including eight special education teachers to create an autism program to reduce out-of-district placement costs, and three teachers to build a new but small alternative high school program at the Dingley Building. The budget proposes that Lewiston students would still attend Auburn’s Franklin alternative school, Webster said.

The budget adds one English language learner teacher to keep pace with a growing number of immigrant students and one third-grade teacher at Longley, a school that has the highest number of ELL newcomers.

The ELL population, and the overall student population, continues to grow. “We also are getting more newcomers without any English skills or education experience,” Webster said.

ELL student numbers are projected to grow to 1,197 from 1,139; the total student population to 5,318, up from 5,220.

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Lewiston school budget meetings start tonight

Lewiston Schools Superintendent Bill Webster is asking residents to weigh in on proposed budget cuts.

The first budget meeting of the School Committee is at 6:45 p.m. tonight, March 5, at the Dingley Building. Budget meetings will continue at the same time every Monday and Wednesday night through March 31 before the budget goes to referendum on May 13.

If the School Committee and the public want him to decide what should be cut, he will, Webster said. But the consequences of what to cut should receive public input. “There needs to be open discussion and transparency,” he said “I encourage people to come to the budget meetings.”

The proposed budget can be seen at http://www.lewiston.k12.me.us.

March 5: Budget overview.

March 10: Lewiston Regional Technical Center, Lewiston Middle School, Lewiston High School.

March 12: Adult education, English language learners, special education, administration.

March 17: All elementary schools: Farwell, Martel, McMahon, Montello, Longley and Geiger.

March 19: Administration, transportation, facilities maintenance, debt service.

March 24: Budget review.

March 31: Joint meeting with School Committee and City Council at McMahon.

April 9: Review and revisions.

April 14: School Committee vote to adopt the budget and send it to the City Council.

May 6: City Council vote on adopting the budget, City Hall.

May 13: School budget referendum.


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