LEWISTON — Lewiston voters will have a chance to have their say on the proposed school budget during a referendum Tuesday, May 13.

Voting hours are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Longley Elementary School gym, 145 Birch St., across from the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.

“Fortunately, we have very capable educators in Lewiston,” Superintendent Bill Webster said. “But this budget does not make their job any easier. It will make it harder with more students to deal with.”

The proposed $61.17 million budget is up 4 percent from this fiscal year. Property taxes will go up, too. A home valued at $150,000 will have a tax bill that is $22.50 higher.

That’s a big change from the first budget proposed in March, which would have seen property taxes rising $126 on a $150,000 home.

What’s changed since then is Lewiston has received more money than expected from the state, and Lewiston City Council has directed deeper cuts.

Still, rising costs will mean cuts in programs and slightly larger classrooms. Higher costs include staff raises, insurance premiums and special education expenses for students placed in private, out-of-district programs.

In the athletic budget, intramural sports programs were eliminated and an account that replaces uniforms wiped out. The cuts will mean high school athletes will be asked to pay $10 to play a sport. Also, admission fees to attend games will go from $3 to $5 for adults.

Thirteen positions were eliminated, including several classroom teachers. Because more than 13 people are retiring in June, no one will be laid off.

Overall the budget is “bare bones,” Webster said. The budget “doesn’t reflect what we need to be providing for education, but it recognizes both the political and economic realities.”

If he had more to spend, Webster said he’d create universal prekindergarten and hire more elementary school teachers to reduce classroom sizes. The budget means that elementary class sizes will go up about one student, from an average of 23 to 24 students, Webster said.

The budget includes four new positions to build in-house special education autism programs at Geiger Elementary and the Lewiston Middle School. The goal is to save money by reducing the number of students in expensive, out-of-district programs.

It was during Gov. John Baldacci’s administration that a law was passed allowing voters to decide school budgets.

In most municipalities voter turnout has been light. Exceptions are when there’s controversy around a school budget, typically when voters regard it as too expensive.

Lewiston has some 24,000 registered voters, “but turnout is about 500 voters,” City Clerk Kathy Montejo said. Last year, voters were asked if they wanted to discontinue the school budget referendum.

“They said they wanted to keep voting,” Montejo said.

As of Thursday, only 18 people requested absentee ballots, Montejo said.

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