AUBURN — Mayor Jonathan LaBonte’s penchant for redesigning government bumped up against school officials’ frustrations with state-enforced budgets during a special joint meeting Thursday night.

LaBonte suggested now might be a good time to consider putting all youth-related matters — from library to recreation — under the School Department’s control.

His ideas were not received well.

“We are providing a quality education for our students,” School Committee member Bonnie Hayes said. “We provided you a quality education. Times have changed, and we are still doing a good job. So if you want to reinvent (the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments), if you want to reinvent (the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council) fine. But let’s not tackle the School Department this year.”

School officials attended the meeting to update councilors on their proposed budget. Superintendent Katy Grondin said the current budget calls for a 5.16 percent increase in expenditures, from $37.1 million this fiscal year to $39 in 2014-15.

But when state education funding guidelines are factored in, the budget amounts to a 10.37 percent increase in local property taxes for education — about 79 cents per $1,000 of property value.


School Committee member Ron Potvin cautioned that committee members had not begun cutting the budget yet. That work is expected to begin at a March 26 workshop.

“Now we will go to work on it,” Potvin said.

School officials are hoping to put the final budget before voters in June.

One frustration for school officials is state guidelines that set a minimum amount of property taxes that the schools must devote to education. Education tax rates that don’t rise to those levels incur cuts in state funding.

LaBonte and city councilors suggested last year folding some educational-related matters the city funds back into the school budget, such as police resource officers in the schools. He made similar suggestions Thursday.

But school officials said the state does not recognize many of those items as applicable to education. They are considered extras that can’t be added into the state calculations.


Grondin said the problem is that the state’s formulas are not meant to determine school spending but school revenues.

“I don’t want the community to hear that we put a budget together to meet (Essential Programs and Services). That is not accurate,” she said. “This is a budget put together to fund the education — a high-quality education — for every student in Auburn. That’s what this is, and it costs money. So to bring the tax rate down it will cost programs.”

LaBonte said he was recommending ideas and school officials were being overly sensitive.

“How can we ever make progress about reinventing how we educate our young people or grow our community if every discussion starts with conditions?” LaBonte said. “Can’t we get into a space where we say ‘Imagine if?'”

School Committee Chairwoman Tracey Levesque said LaBonte’s suggestions were welcome but the school needs to adopt a budget now.

“We can continue discussions with the library, with the Recreation Department, with the Boys and Girls Clubs, with everyone,” she said. “Let’s just be tactful about it.”

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