AUBURN — Residents packed a hearing room Wednesday night and with emotion told the Auburn School Committee the school budget can’t be reduced.

They urged school board members to push for a bigger budget than one that allows a 1.8 percent increase in spending as required by the Auburn City Council and the City Charter.

School Committee members reluctantly supported a list of cuts from administration to meet the 1.8 percent limit that includes up to 10 positions. On that list are five elementary school librarians, four school police officers and French and Spanish teachers at Auburn Middle School.

Other cuts considered are closing the Auburn Land Lab, less professional development, retirement incentives for up to 12 teachers, and cutting facility maintenance and school supplies.

Committee members rejected earlier ideas of closing East Auburn School, eliminating three elementary guidance counselors and one high school assistant principal. The possibility of asking students to pay to play sports was left open.

But the audience, which included several educators, parents and former taxpayer advocates, disagreed with the cuts.

Jim Berube said he was involved in the tax revolt in 2005-06. 

Statistics show Auburn taxes for education haven’t gone up in the past 10 years, Berube said. “Now we’re concerned that we’re going to raise taxes? It’s ridiculous. Things go up. … Shame on the city for putting you guys in this position when our taxes have not increased. And shame on the city people who live here for thinking things can’t go up after 10 years.”

Resident Ryan Bellemare said he grew up in Lewiston, went to college in Arizona and moved his family to Auburn.

The school budget “kind of makes me think I made a wrong decision bringing my family back,” Bellemare said. Maybe he should have gone to Yarmouth or Cumberland, he said. His children attend East Auburn School, which he called “a gem.” What’s available at the school and the Auburn Land Lab program “is endless. It needs to grow and prosper.”

Teacher Michelle Gagne said she has good teaching skills because Auburn teachers are well-trained. Her skills are not dwindling, but students have grown more complicated to teach. 

She needs professional development to keep up with technology, but she also needs development to teach students coming from complex family situations. She shared something that happened in her class two weeks ago.

Two 7-year-old girls were making cards, one for a dying grandfather, the other for a family member the girl was missing.

“One said, ‘You can’t use crayons,’” Gagne said. “I said, ‘Of course you can use crayons.’ She said, ‘When you get to the jail, sometimes they think there are drugs in the crayons. If you use pencil or pens, they’ll let you bring the card in.”

Gagne said she was unsure how to respond, and sought help from the school’s guidance counselor. “Just sustaining the budget now is not going do anything but harm our kids. They’re coming to school with more need.”

Auburn Middle School teacher Carl Bucciantini, head of the Auburn teachers’ union, said he surveyed teachers in recent days, and many said they’re actively looking for work in other districts because of salary and because they don’t feel valued.

Many have taught for fewer than 10 years, he said. Auburn has put a lot of time and energy in developing those teachers, Bucciantini said. The new leadership in Auburn teachers “is thinking about going someplace else.”

Walton School teacher Jamie Theriault said she loves Walton, “but I’m considering leaving.” She spoke against cutting elementary school librarians.

Every year she has young students come into her classroom “who have never seen books before.” It’s her job to convince kids that reading is more important than video games. “Think about the message we’re sending to these kids that reading is not worth what comes down to $1.50 a month on the school budget” for librarians.

Barry Skilling said his children got a good education in Auburn thanks to Auburn teachers. “The city is killing us. You might as well put on black arm bands,” Skilling said. “When you don’t maintain, you lose.”

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