LEWISTON — The School Committee unanimously approved an $82.9 million budget for 2018-19 Monday night.

The overall spending plan is up 11.7 percent from this fiscal year, in part because of Connors Elementary School, which is under construction. The state is paying for the school, but that payment adds to the overall budget.

Without the new school, the budget increase would be 7.1 percent.

A taxpayer whose property is valued at $150,000, would pay about $81 more, not including the municipal and Androscoggin County assessments.

The committee talked about its recent 3-4 vote not to join a regional service center with Auburn, Regional School Unit 16 in Poland and School Administrative District 52 in Turner.

State law requires schools to enter into service center agreements or lose state funding. For Lewiston, the decision means a loss of $200,000 this year and $400,000 next year.

The committee agreed to revisit its decision April 23, Superintendent Bill Webster said Tuesday. 

One substantial reason for the nearly 12 percent increase in the proposed school budget is an infusion of state aid, approved by lawmakers last summer when they failed to implement a referendum approved by voters that would have placed a higher tax for education on people whose incomes exceeded $200,000.

Lewiston is getting $61.5 million in state money, up from $53.5 million. The extra includes $3.3 million for the Connors school, which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2019.

In addition to covering staff raises and higher health care costs, much of the state’s additional funding will be used to hire more staff, a total of 62 new positions in two years. Many of the new teachers and education technicians will serve a growing number of special education students in Lewiston. The city schools have no choice but to meet the needs of those students, according to Webster.

Lewiston is getting more state education money than any other district for several reasons, including the city’s higher level of poverty, lower property values and an increasing number of students.

But to get all of the state money Lewiston is entitled to, city taxpayers must pay a minimum local share. If that amount is not raised, Lewiston will lose about $3 from the state for every $1 the city underspends, according to Webster.

On Monday, the committee approved taking on $20,000 of the city’s costs for bonding, and cutting $20,000 in adult education, Webster said. That is a way of cutting costs to taxpayers while still meeting the state-required minimum local share.

The budget is sustainable, he said, even if next year state money to Lewiston only covers the cost of inflation. While Lewiston’s student population increase has slowed, “the rest of the state is losing population,” Webster told the City Council last month.

Also next year there won’t be a big expense for building the new school, which is covered by the state increase. All of this means local taxes would not go up as much next year in order to get all of the state money. 

The School Department is scheduled to present the budget to the City Council on April 17. The council is scheduled to vote on the budget May 1, according to City Administrator Ed Barrett.

The budget referendum will be held from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, May 8, at Longley Elementary School.

In this file photo, Lewiston Superintendent Bill Webster last month talks about the proposed school budget. To his right are School Committee Chairman Francis Gagnon and City Council Kristen Cloutier. To Webster’s left is Committee member Tanya Estabrook. The budget was approved by the School Committee Monday night. It will be decided by voters during a May 8 referendum at Longley Elementary School. (Bonnie Washuk/Sun Journal) 

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