LEWISTON — The school budget referendum in Lewiston is scheduled for May 14.

A Lewiston resident votes during the 2018 school budget referendum. This yer, the vote is scheduled for May 14 at Longley Elementary School. Sun Journal file photo by Russ Dillingham

Voting is set for 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Longley Elementary School gymnasium.

Absentee ballots can be picked up at City Hall but cannot be returned until May 8, after the City Council votes on the budget May 7.

This year, voters will be asked three questions:

• Do you favor the Lewiston School Department’s budget as adopted by the City Council?

• Do you wish to continue voting on school budgets?

• Was the school budget too high, acceptable or too low? (a nonbinding question).

Traditionally, voter turnout for school budgets is low, “but interest in Lewiston is growing, which is great,” City Clerk Kathy Montejo said.

State law requires voters be asked every three years if they want to continue voting on school budgets.

“Lewiston voters have always said yes, as have most towns in Maine,” Montejo said.

Last year, the voter turnout was almost 4.3% — 1,135 out of 26,605 registered Lewiston voters.

The school budget vote in 2016 was among the more surprising: Voter turnout was only 2.8% and the budget was rejected by six votes: 373-367.

When a second school budget referendum was held a month later, voter turnout jumped to 13.7% and the budget passed 2,230 to 1,310.

This year, voters will be asked to approve an $86.5 million school budget, a 4.6% increase to current spending and a less-than-1% increase to local property taxes for the school side of the budget. The proposed school budget would increase annual taxes by about $15 on a property valued at $150,000, down from an earlier estimate of $24, Superintendent Bill Webster said Tuesday.

The reduction is attributable to more money expected from the state after it corrected earlier estimates for the number of English Language Learner students in Lewiston.

The proposed budget maintains existing programs and adds 20 new positions, not including more special education positions that could be added if more special education students show up in the fall, Webster said.
The 20 new positions are largely meant to help reduce chronic absenteeism at Lewiston schools, which is defined as missing at least 10% of school days.
Webster said 31% of high school students in Lewiston are chronically absent, which is one reason the city’s graduation rate is between 70% and 80%.
The budget’s impact on students “is limited by the financial capacity of our community,” Webster said.
He said more teachers “will better meet the needs of Lewiston students through reducing class size, expanding electives at Lewiston High School and improving the capacity of our alternative education options.”

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