LEWISTON — Members of the Lewiston School Committee were solemn Wednesday night as Superintendent Bill Webster presented the proposed 2014-15 school budget.

No one liked the spending plan, which calls for higher property taxes and cuts in positions and programs.

The committee has faced tough budgets before, committee Chairman Jim Handy said. “But this one will be different. This is a ‘hold-your-head-above-water budget.’ This is not going to be an easy process.”

On the chopping block are 26 positions, including 10 classroom teachers, which would mean larger classes in most schools. Also on the list of cuts is a 25 percent reduction in sports and co-curricular activitiy funding at the high school and middle school.

Webster said twice that the budget “does not meet the needs of Lewiston’s children, nor do I promote it as something Lewiston can afford.”

The proposed 2014-15 school budget is $60.76 million, $1.9 million higher than the current budget. It includes a list of $2.1 million in cuts, of which $1.9 million must be made if the budget is to be kept at $60.76 million.

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With the normal higher costs of health benefits and raises and expected flat funding from the state, “it creates the perfect storm,” committee member Tom Shannon said.

Webster proposes creating new in-house programs, including an autism program at Geiger, to reduce costs while meeting the needs of students.

Handy said the committee will expect input from the public to help decide cuts.

“If you have ideas or suggestions, we welcome that,” Handy said. The final budget will not be pretty, but hopefully “something we can live with. Meanwhile, we hope tomorrow can be a brighter day.”

Retired Lewiston teacher Crystal Ward pointed out that audience members didn’t have budget books which makes it impossible for the public to follow discussions.

Handy agreed and instructed school staff to find a way “to make it happen” in the way of more budget books or handouts.

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Shannon said the phone numbers and email addresses of School Committee members are listed, and he welcomes phone calls with questions or feedback. Handy said he welcomes questions or comments through email, but cautioned that he does not seriously consider any that are anonymous.

Shannon said after the meeting he was not happy about the budget. “It’s going to be a lot of work, a lot of community involvement. These are tough cuts being proposed.”

He said he didn’t want to see the proposed 25 percent reduction in extra-curricular activities and sports at the middle and high schools because it would disincentivize students.

“Whether it’s the mock trial, the one-act play or the girls’ eighth-grade basketball team, those are parts of the school experience” Shannon said.

Retired teacher Ward said Lewiston faces difficult decisions. “What has to be in the forefront is what is best for our students and to make sure their needs are met,” she said.

The impact of federal and state government cuts “are coming back home and now we have to eat them,” she said. “It is a matter of passing the buck down the line so the taxpayer at the bottom is picking up the problem.”

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Monday: High school, sports, extra-curricular activities

On Monday night, a presentation on what proposed school budget cuts would mean for the high school will be given by Lewiston High School Principal Linda MacKenzie. Also Monday night, Athletic Director Jason Fuller will talk about how the cuts would affect sports and extra-curricular activities. That meeting is set to begin at 6:45 p.m. at the Dingley Building.

For more information on the budget or the Lewiston School Department, go to www.lewiston.k12.me.us/~lewschdept/.


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