LEWISTON — The School Committee unanimously approved a $99.6 million spending plan Monday night, representing roughly an 8% increase over this fiscal year.

The estimated tax impact would be 99 cents, or $11.72 per $1,000 of assessed value. The budget will increase annual taxes by about $149 on a property valued at $150,000.

While committee members acknowledge residents may think the increase is too high, they said reducing the budget any further would lead to cutting staff which would impact the quality of education.

“I’m just going to be honest, I don’t think that we’re going to get more than $1,” City Council representative Linda Scott said. “I’m honestly fearful that we’re going to get some pushback to lower it another 35 cents like we did last week. I don’t know how we’re going to do that.”

“No matter what we do, (99 cents) is going to be a hard sell,” she said later.

Ward 6 representative Meghan Hird agreed, citing conversations with community members. But she also acknowledged that she is unsure what else the district can cut from the budget.

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“I think we’re at the bare minimum at this point,” she said.

“We’re at people at this point,” Superintendent Jake Langlais responded, meaning the district would need to cut more positions from the budget to reduce spending.

The district has already cut nearly $3 million and 36 positions from the initial budget.

“We’re three years in the making of inadequate funding locally,” Langlais said. “We’re doing everything we can to be as responsible as we can to every taxpayer, myself included, as a Lewiston resident.”

For several years in a row, increased costs from contractual obligations have far exceeded increased revenue from taxpayers, Langlais explained.

In 2020, the school budget was cut by more than $1 million to reduce the tax burden due to concerns for the pandemic. Combined with the municipal budget, taxpayers saw a 41-cent decrease per $1,000 of assessed value, or $61 on a property valued at $150,000.

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In 2019, the school tax increase was estimated at $15 on a property valued at $150,000, and in 2021 the increase was $90.

“Making deeper staff cuts and having more kids in each classroom and offering less services is hardly a recipe for improving the outcomes,” School Committee Chairman Bruce Damon said. “If we’re going to create the kind of school system that we would really want to have, it costs money.”

Ward 4 representative Tanya Whitlow asked the committee to consider finding funding to create a position dedicated to grant writing and bringing increased revenue into the school. However, it was quickly agreed that the budget was too tight to make such an addition this year.

“There’s so much money, I would have to say billions of dollars are given away every year to schools, nonprofits,” Whitlow said. “It blows my mind that not every organization would have a grant writer.”

The City Council will receive a presentation from the School Committee on April 12. The budget is not finalized until Lewiston voters approve it.

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