LEWISTON — School Committee members were disappointed and frustrated Monday night upon learning that the City Council might ask for further cuts in school spending.

The committee’s proposed budget includes a 78-cent increase on the tax rate. Another 23 cents for Adult Education would bring the total increase to $1 for the 2021-22 school year.

But the council might ask for a school budget increase of 60 cents per $1,000 of property valuation, committee member Alicia Rea said. Rea is the council’s representative to the School Committee.

She said she told the council that the district’s financial manager has determined that such a reduction would affect jobs.

The municipal budget includes a 39-cent increase, she said, and some councilors would like a total city/school increase of no more than $1.

Committee member Ron Potvin pointed out that 50 cents of the tax-rate increase is budgeted for a debt payment for an addition to Lewiston High School. That project — and the debt incurred — already has been approved by voters.

“That would leave us with 10 cents, basically $200,000, to address $2 million in federal mandates,” Potvin said. “I’m speechless, honestly.”

He said he is a fiscal conservative who always has taken the position of taxpayer advocate.

But such a cut would not be manageable, he said.

“I will always stand on this pedestal,” Potvin said. “We are the third-largest municipality in the state, and we have the second-largest school district.”

Further cuts to the budget after a zero percent local increase last year “can’t work,” he said.

The School Committee’s $95.7 million proposed budget is designed to bring the district’s English language learners program up to federal standards and to address the needs of the most vulnerable. That includes students who have fallen behind because of remote instruction during the pandemic.

Other committee members expressed disappointment, frustration and even repulsion over the idea that the City Council might reject the school spending plan.

Member Kiernan Majerus-Collins said he would have been more upset “if I didn’t think the council was just blowing hot air. Sixty cents — that’s clown math.”

He added that students and families need educational support now more than ever.

“Obviously, this committee has no intention of moving 1 cent off where we are now,” he said.

Superintendent Jake Langlais said that if the council does ask for further cuts, he would have to use more of the fund balance, possibly taking it to zero. The money in the fund balance is insurance against unseen, catastrophic expenses.

The balance (unspent money carried over) stands at $1.5 million. The proposed local increase is $1.58 million.

“I struggle with cutting people, big time,” Langlais said. “When you do a reduction in force, there are appropriate protections in contracts.”

That means people with less seniority and smaller salaries would be cut first, taking more job losses to meet the cut.

Langlais said he also could look at school supplies to see which accounts “could be zeroed.”

The City Council is set to vote on the School Committee’s spending plan Tuesday, May 4. A citywide referendum is scheduled for May 11, leaving a one-week window for budget adjustments, if needed.

A town hall style meeting for a public review of the budget is scheduled for May 6.

Rea noted that absentee ballots are available but cannot not be submitted until the council approves a school budget.

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