AUBURN — After two principals stood up in support and one parent raised concerns about proficiency-based learning, school board Chairman Tom Kendall closed a half-hour public hearing on the school department’s $44.1 million budget Wednesday night.

He added that it might have been record timing.

Superintendent Katy Grondin started the hearing by walking through the proposed 2019 budget’s highlights. It is up 5.6 percent over the current school year, but with more state funding, taxpayers would only be assessed an additional 2.6 percent in the coming year.

The largest expense — 75 percent of the budget — relates to salaries and benefits, she said.

The school department has roughly 500 employees, 350 of them teachers.

“We are a people business,” Grondin said. “We educate little people, and we do that through all of the support with our staff to make sure our students’ needs are being met, academically, socially, emotionally.”

The proposed budget funds five additional teachers, including a math teacher for the high school.

“During tough times, we did a lot of reducing and often went to the high school first,” Grondin said. “Their class size went up and we didn’t want to impact elementary the same way, so really putting back a math position is really putting back to where that math department was.”

The budget also includes $285,000 for four new buses, which she said will be reimbursed by the state next year.

Overall, the budget for regular education grew a little more than $1 million to $17.6 million, and the budget for special education grew by $756,256 to $10.1 million.

Grondin said she has proposed using $636,000 from the fund balance to offset the local impact, down from the $900,000 that had been applied in past years.

Kim Taylor, principal of Sherwood Heights Elementary School, said she appreciated funding additional teachers. Her school would get one of the new five.

“If that didn’t happen, we’d be looking at several classes being over 25,” Taylor said. “Right now, we have six classes that would have over 25 students in them.

“This year, we had a lot of overcrowding. We had to send several kindergarten students and their siblings over to Walton because we didn’t have space at our school.”

Walton Elementary School Principal Mike Davis said he also liked to see smaller class sizes in other schools, and voiced support for proficiency-based learning, a hot topic in Auburn this spring.

“It’s transparent,” said Davis, adding that he has a son in ninth grade. “I know and my son knows what he needs to do to reach his target.”

After Kendall asked her to keep comments related to the budget, parent Laura Garcia said she would be filing a Freedom of Access Act request with the school department related to any communications and payments to David Stephen.

Garcia said Stephen, who is working with Harriman, the firm hired to design the new Edward Little High School, spoke at length at the school’s Vision 2030 forum last week.

“Those of us sitting at my table felt once again like we were hearing a (proficiency-based learning) sales pitch,” Garcia said. “I Googled Mr. Stephen sitting there and what I found out was that Mr. Stephen has been involved with the PBL movement since the beginning.

“I think we have a right to know who is giving us advice, where they came from and what it’s costing us.”

Grondin said Stephen was part of Harriman’s team when the school interviewed potential architects.

With no other comments, Grondin said the school board will likely adopt a budget at its first meeting in May. The spending plan would then move on to the city council.

A public vote is scheduled for June 12.

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Proficiency-based learning in Lewiston and Auburn has been discussed at many public meetings in March.

The Sun Journal’s coverage so far:

• Teachers, parents defend proficiency-based learning in Lewiston (March 5)

• Forum planned on new learning system for Auburn students (March 14)

• Lewiston modifying aspects of student learning, grading system (March 19)

• Auburn teachers defend learning system under fire (March 21)

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