LEWISTON — The School Committee’s proposed budget would raise the property tax rate by 78 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

The committee voted unanimously Wednesday night to adopt a spending plan with a $1.58 million additional local increase.

The $95.72 million budget next goes to the City Council for approval and then to city voters. The council is scheduled to vote on the budget May 4. A citywide referendum is set for May 11.

Committee member Ron Potvin pointed out that the 78-cent increase includes a debt payment on the Lewiston High School expansion, which voters have already approved.

“We can make a statement to the public (with this budget) that we are moving forward to support the district’s most vulnerable students,” Potvin said. “I think this is a reasonable request.”

Member Kiernan Majerus-Collins also urged the committee to approve the plan.

“Adoption of the budget is absolutely essential for our students,” he said. “I think we are putting something forward for the next school year that is a real achievement.”

He added, “We’ve gotta fight like hell to make sure it gets approved.”

Majerus-Collins’ motion to adopt included a direction to the superintendent to fund a second assistant director for the English language learners program.

That $120,000 salary, including benefits, is to come from the $1.5 million fund balance.

ELL Director Hillary Barber told the committee during a presentation before the budget vote that with 13 additional teachers being hired for the program, administration would be overwhelming.

The additional teachers will make a total of 53 in the ELL program. The district needs more ELL teachers to comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1957, which guarantees the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans, particularly some of the most vulnerable members of society.

The budget includes $5.48 million for the ELL program, an increase of $1.35 million over the current allocation.

Barber shared numbers with the committee to show the high level of need in the district.

• 33 languages are spoken in Lewiston Public Schools, with the most prevalent being Somali, Portuguese, French, Arabic, Swahili, Rwandan and Spanish.

• 1,300 of the district’s 5,030 students speak a language other than English. It is the second-highest number behind Portland, which has 1,500 in its ELL program.

• The number of Portuguese speakers fleeing violence in the West Africa country of Angola is “continually rising” in Lewiston, Barber said.

She said hiring 13 additional teachers is a “really good start” toward improving the ELL program.

“I would like to see us add those positions, fill them and then evaluate where we are to see if we need more services,” she said.

Barber said she and Assistant Director Lysa McLemore serve as teachers, in addition to their other duties, which include identifying and assessing students, screening and testing them for English proficiency, monitoring progress and communicating with parents.

The program is legally required to provide translation service to all parents who request it, Barber said.

She said communications from the superintendent are translated into the seven most-prevalent languages and a translation program is being set up on the district’s website.

“I hope the public understands how vitally important your work is,” Majerus-Collins said to Barber after her presentation.

He said the School Committee was committed to fully supporting the ELL program after “the unforgiveable lack of support of school committees going back many years.”

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