As a homeowner, taxpayer and parent of a Lewiston student I am happy to support the 2016 school budget for a variety of reasons. I have attended countless school committee meetings over the last two years as a way to better understand where our challenges are. As a frustrated parent and taxpayer I thought for sure there must be some easy solutions, that the budget wasn’t being used appropriately. The more I listened, the more I spoke with other parents, taxpayers, educators, administrators and school committee members the more I learned.

First. Spending money on our public education system is making an investment in our future. When our students are well-educated and feel supported they are more likely to add value to our local economy for generations to come. Well- educated students become gainfully employed, they start businesses, they buy homes and they raise families – but who wants to raise their children in a city where the schools are nickeled-and-dimed?

Second. If you look at the budget, line item by line item, you will quickly find that there is no fluff or egregious  spending to be had. Trust me. I have looked, I wanted to catch them in a gotcha moment – and I simply could not find one. One walk into our schools and you will quickly see how frugal we are.

I have spoken with some who think that by reducing spending in our schools we will decrease the amount of people moving into our community, especially those that need services such as special education and English Language Learner programs. That simply is not the case. Lewiston is growing because people realize we are a city on the rise. We have people coming to our community from all walks of life because we are a safe city, we have a sense of community and people in the Southern part of the state are recognizing that it is more affordable and ,yes, it is finally happening here.

We already spend 13 percent per student less on our schools in Lewiston then the state average. In fact, I learned that the proposed budget only raises the minimum level of required local taxes to ensure that Lewiston receives full state subsidy. If we do not raise the minimum share, the state subsidy will be reduced roughly $2.50 for every $1 not raised locally. This would mean a cut of $3.50 in services for every $1 not raised below the minimum.

If you cut from the schools (which not approving the budget will likely do), you will not cut social service programs, you will cut programs like athletics, you will cut music, you will cut teachers because those are the only areas where cuts are possible. If you have concerns about certain costs associated with the school budget then your responsibility as a tax payer is to bring it up to your school board official, attend the meetings, write letters – address the trust issue instead of punishing the children.

Third. We need to support our education staff; this includes making sure enough money is available to hire the teachers we need to reduce our classroom sizes. There are classrooms at the elementary level with more than 25 students, which is well above the maximum classroom size. At the high school and middle school levels teachers and guidance staff have student loads of sometimes 120 or more. This is not giving our students the ability to effectively learn, nor our staff to effectively teach them. There are many studies that show how smaller class sizes increase learning and decrease educator burnout.

Nationally, there is a teacher shortage. This is felt all across Maine, but even more in Lewiston because not only do our teachers have larger class sizes, smaller budgets and  the challenges of a growing, diverse population, but our pay rates are lower than most other school systems in Maine.

I know that it will be incredibly difficult to change the minds of those that are steadfast in thinking we spend too much on education. My plea is directed most to those who are not supporting the budget because they think it is not enough. We must realize there is no way to have it all. We need to be fiscally responsible, yet meet the basic needs of our school system and this is a start. While I would like to have that extra fifty bucks (or so) to buy a few coffees next year, I am happy to, instead, invest it in our future.  I hope you choose to invest in education as well.

You also need to know:

Lewiston schools: More kids. More needs. More money

45 more special ed positions: ‘Children are needier than they used to be.’

What you need to know before you vote

Among the numbers: Immigrant family finds safety, good schools

* Robert Reed: Why I oppose the Lewiston school budget

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