LEWISTON — City councilors told the School Committee on Monday that its proposed budget would be too much of a burden on taxpayers.

The two panels met for a workshop on the draft spending plan, which includes an 8% increase. The property tax impact would be $1.99 per $1,000 of valuation.

“We live in a community with a significant amount of poverty,” Mayor Mark Cayer said. “Many families are living paycheck to paycheck. A tax increase could literally put people out of their homes. A significant increase like this is just too much.”

Several councilors agreed with that but not all of them.

Alicia Rea, the City Council representative to the School Committee, said she supported the budget as it stands, at $95.05 million.

She noted that Superintendent Jake Langlais has said the plan does not meet the needs of students.

“We have to take that to heart,” Rea said. “Time and again, we have underfunded our schools.”

She added, “I think we owe it to children to prioritize them after what they’ve given up this past year. Which kids do we choose to leave behind?”

Local schools this year limited class participation because of pandemic guidelines on social distancing and adopted a hybrid model of part-time remote instruction. Many students are failing or struggling to keep up under this model.

Langlais told the council that the budget was built based on the goals of supporting the most vulnerable and planning for remediation.

School Committee member Ron Potvin offered some perspective on that.

“Homelessness, special education, (English language learners), alternative education — we addressed every single vulnerable population,” Potvin said.

He said as for remediation, parents ask him every day how the district will get students back to where they should be.

“I don’t see how we can meet the needs of the schools by kicking the can down the road again,” he said.

Some budgeted items are still on the table. Cuts will be made and COVID-19 relief funds will be used to offset some expenses, Potvin said.

City Councilor Lee Clement argued that government exists to protect citizens and “we certainly would not do that by raising taxes.”

He said the city budget faces painful cuts and both council and the School Committee “need to look at this with very sharp pencils. This has been another bad year for taxpayers.”

The committee is scheduled to adopt a spending plan April 5 and to present it to the City Council on April 13. The council will vote on it May 4 and it will go to voters May 11 for initial approval ahead of a July referendum.

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