AUBURN — An adjustment in health insurance costs in the School Department’s fiscal year 2021 budget could be used to reduce the local tax increase.

The district had budgeted for a 6% increase in health insurance costs, but the actual number came in at 1.8%, Superintendent Katy Grondin told the School Committee on Wednesday night.

Members reached consensus that the bulk of the $236,000 adjustment would go toward reducing the local share.

The effect of COVID-19 “already has devastated the city of Auburn, so I think we should put as much back to local as we can,” member Dan Poisson said. “I don’t think (the budget) will pass if we don’t.”

Grondin said the move would reduce the tax rate increase from 48 cents per $1,000 of property value to 39 cents.

In addition to reducing the local share, the committee was in favor of using $66,500 of the adjustment to restore an instructional position.

The position of technology instructional coach was cut to meet the City Council’s directive to reduce the local share.

But the money won’t necessarily be used to retain the technology coach. The committee seemed to see more value in adding an interventionist or two educational technicians.

Academic interventionists work with students who need help learning new skills or building fluency in a skill. They also support classroom teachers and help coordinate professional development sessions, among other things.

Member Faith Fontaine noted that the committee has heard from teachers that they need more interventionists.

Children returning to school after the coronavirus has run its course will need extra help and teachers will need more support, she said.

Other members favored putting the entire $236,000 toward reducing local taxes.

“I’ve seen the collapse of some businesses, and longstanding businesses,” Brian Carrier said, “and we still have months to go. I support anything we can do to reduce the local share and ease the burden.”

Member Rose Walker favored putting all of the money into classroom positions.

“I really believe we need to get some positions back in the budget,” Walker said. “The community needs to understand why we are asking for above and beyond (the City Council’s directive).”

The council directed the school district to reduce its proposed budget by $1.3 million, which required eliminating 13 positions, all but one of them new.

Grondin’s budget was $48.36 million, with a local increase of $2.46 million. The cuts reduced the local share to $1.16 million.

Other positions cut from the budget include four education technicians for elementary school classrooms with more than 25 pupils for a savings of 120,000.

Eliminating three interventionists, one each for Fairview, Park Avenue and Sherwood Heights elementary schools, reduced the spending plan by another $194,500.

Other cuts include educational technicians for special education and the middle school, among others.

The budget must be approved by the City Council and then by voters.


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