LEWISTON — Saying they’d like to do more to reduce class sizes, Lewiston School Committee members approved a $64.7 million budget Monday night, a 5.8 percent increase from the current budget.

The proposed budget includes 32 new positions, most of them special ed to keep pace with growing special ed students. About 10 educators would be hired to ensure all kindergarten classes will be no more than 20 students per teacher.

But the budget doesn’t reduce other large classes. Next year, there would still be more than 30 elementary classes with 25 or more students. That’s a lot, Superintendent Bill Webster said, considering Lewiston has a high percentage of students with high needs from poor families.

The budget will be presented to the City Council on April 23, followed by a council vote May 5. Voters will have the last say during the May 12 referendum.

Committee members Monday reluctantly agreed to a City Council directive to reduce spending by $200,000 in Webster’s recommended budget. That means eliminating one of two deans at Lewiston High School. Also reduced is one day of professional development for teachers.

Savings were found in special ed, transportation, health care benefits and electricity. A new, small alternative program at Lewiston High School was not cut as previously discussed.

The budget will absorb $50,000 of expenses from the city, paying for 75 percent of the school resource officers instead of 50 percent, an increase of $38,000; paying the city $5,000 rent to hold classes at the armory; and $7,000 for retention pond maintenance in Franklin Pasture.

Webster warned that the school budget can’t be reduced any more or Lewiston will lose state money because it isn’t spending enough on education.

“Our budget is raising the absolute minimum the state requires from local taxes for us to receive 100 percent state subsidy,” Webster said. “If our budget raises $1 less, we lose $2.40 of state aid.”

Put in big numbers, if the school budget was cut by $190,000, Lewiston would have a penalty of $456,000 for a total budget reduction of $646,000, Webster said.

Lewiston is spending $1 million less than what the state recommends, Webster said. If the school budget had another million, more class sizes would be reduced.

School Committee member Linda Scott turned to parents in the audience and urged them, “Come to City Hall. Tell them you’ll pay taxes, that we need those teachers. We have too many kids in our classrooms.”

Retired teacher Crystal Ward said she understands the budget is tight, but complained too many teachers have been pulled from classrooms to become coaches. They should go back in classrooms and reduce class sizes, Ward said.

“As a retired teacher, the overcrowded classrooms trump whatever coach it is by 1,000 miles,” Ward said. “We need to take a look at it.”

Webster said coaches paid for by a federal grant are being eliminated, and that other coaches are covered by federal Title I money, which is not part of the city budget and not available to pay for classroom teachers.

Parent Janet Beaudoin said next year, the four first grades at McMahon Elementary will have 25 or 26 students per class. Her niece goes to Geiger Elementary, and there are 28 students in her class.

“What is going to be done to fix this?” Beaudoin said. “I don’t understand how this proposed budget is not giving us the teachers we need. … The ratios are too high. I’m frustrated to hear that nothing’s going to be done.”

Webster said if kindergarten numbers are less than expected, another teacher will go to the first grade to reduce class sizes. And if next year Lewiston spends another $1 million as required by the state Essential Programs and Services formula, that money will reduce first-grade class sizes from 25 to 20, Webster said.

Committee member Tom Shannon said parents’ concerns haven’t fallen on deaf ears. The budget is adding teachers — but not enough.

“We’re on notice,” Shannon said. If, next year, the school department gets the money it should, more teachers will be added, Shannon said. “We’re trying to take the steps necessary to get the personnel in place to staff the new school.”

If passed, the budget would mean $81 more in annual property taxes for a property valued at $150,000.

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