LEWISTON — The Lewiston school budget was rejected Tuesday by a six-vote margin with a tiny, 2.8 percent voter turnout. Of the city’s 25,000 registered voters, 740 voted Tuesday.

It’s the first time voters said no to the school budget since a state law was implemented in 2008 mandating that school budgets be approved by voters.

The unofficial tally was 367-373, said City Clerk Kathy Montejo after election workers double-counted the ballots at Longley Elementary School.

“I’m disappointed,” said Superintendent Bill Webster. “I also think it’s reflective of the very low turnout, 2.8 percent on a $69 million budget. I’d feel much better if 40 or 50 percent of residents voting on this very important question for the city of Lewiston.”

The no vote means there will be another school budget referendum, probably in June, Webster said.

“We will go back to the drawing board and come back to voters again,” he said.

The size of the next school budget will be up to the Lewiston School Committee.

“At the next School Committee meeting we’ll talk about different options,” Webster said. “It might be a reallocated budget. I’ve had parents tell me they wish the budget were higher.”

The budget rejection by six votes could be a wake-up call for people to vote, especially parents, Webster said.

“Whether parents favor or oppose the budget, we probably have 10,000 parents who represent students in our schools,” he said. “Probably 1 percent of them voted.”

Some thought the budget was too low, and planned to vote no because they wanted a bigger budget, Lewiston parent Tina Hutchinson said last week.

Residents voted 495-242 on a second ballot question Tuesday, indicating that they wanted the annual school budget referendum to continue.

Voters interviewed at the polls Tuesday gave mixed reviews on the 2016-17 spending plan, which is up 6.3 percent from this fiscal year. The budget would pay for more than 60 new positions, mostly teachers and education technicians, in large part because of a growing student population and more special education students.

“I voted no,” Max Ashburn said. “I think it’s kind of out of control right now, the whole school budget thing. It’s too much money.”

Rachael Gagnon said she voted no. So did George Bouchard.

“Taxes,” Bouchard said. “We live on Social Security. It’s getting to the point you’re going to see people on Social Security leaving Lewiston. I’m not against the school budget. We can’t pay. You can’t give what you haven’t got.”

Others supported the budget.

“I voted yes,” Mike Albert said. “I’ve got grandkids in the schools.” He called the budget “reasonable.”

Jennifer Willey said she voted for the budget.

“I support education. I think (Superintendent) Bill Webster is doing a fabulous job,” Willey said. “I trust him. That whole School Committee can be trusted to do what’s right for Lewiston. I’m supporting them.”

Peg Hoffman and Jim Cogan also voted for the budget.

“I have a lot of respect for the School Committee,” Hoffman said. “They are people who know.”

Cogan said Lewiston has a lot of students. There’s nothing more important for the community than education, he said.

David Moorhead said he supported the school budget. Lewiston needs more teachers for more students, he said.

Tammy Caron, who brought her husband and two daughters to vote with her, voted yes.

“This is way too small a space for the number of kids we have,” said Caron, an ed tech at Longley school. “We need the room. We need the facilities. We need the staffing to educate these kids the best we can.”

Because of a higher Homestead Exemption, the bigger school budget would mean most property taxes in Lewiston would go down, city officials have said.

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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

Heidi Sawyer: Why I am voting YES on the school budget


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