LEWISTON — School officials expressed reservations about moving forward with proposed cuts to special education and homeless student services at a School Committee meeting Wednesday.

Concurrent reductions in funding from the state and federal governments paired with a significant rise in costs have left Lewiston schools with a $7.8 million shortfall in the initial budget proposal of $105.7 million. It’s a 7% increase from the current budget of $98.8 million.

To reduce the shortfall, Superintendent Jake Langlais has proposed cutting 65 positions, the majority of which are from special education. Other cuts could include $500,000 from out-of-district special education placements and $50,000 from The Store Next Door, a nonprofit organization which assists homeless students and their families.

Since the initial proposal, Langlais has suggested cuts totaling nearly $4 million. If the School Committee ultimately agrees, the reduced $101.8 million budget would fall to a 3% increase from the current budget.

However, some officials said Wednesday that they believe these cuts go too far.

In an impassioned speech, Ward 1 representative Bruce Damon said the School Committee needs to advocate for more investment in local schools.


Of the proposed $105.7 million budget, Lewiston residents are responsible for $27.4 million, roughly a quarter.

“That’s less actual dollars than we asked for in 1998,” Damon said. “So we’re actually asking, with this budget of the local tax base, less than we were 25 years ago.”

With recent problems in special education, including an investigation from the U.S. Department of Justice several years ago, Damon said he can’t see how the district can afford to cut the program any further.

“We’ve been shortchanging the schools in this city for at least 25 years,” Damon said. “It has to stop, or we’re never going to break this. We’re never going to get where we want to go.”

“We’re not doing (our) job here if we don’t ask (for more funds),” Damon added later. “We need to make the ask, and we need to be able to defend it and fight for it.”

No matter how difficult the budget is this year, Damon said he cannot support cutting half a million dollars from out-of-district placements.


Other committee members shared similar reservations, including Ward 3 representative Elizabeth Eames and at-large representative Megan Parks. They expressed concerns that if $500,000 allocated for out-of-district special education placements is removed from the budget now, it will become much more difficult to add it back in the future.

Due to a shortage of openings in special education programs, Langlais said the district does not expect to need the full budgeted amount for out-of-district placements. However, this cut would be a gamble, he said, because the district is compelled by law to fund tuition and transportation when an opening becomes available.

Ward 2 representative Janet Beaudoin said she believes cutting funds the district does not expect to use makes sense.

During public comment, Chief Operating Officer for The Store Next Door and former School Committee member Ronald Potvin urged the committee to reconsider proposed cuts to The Store Next Door.

“You’re talking about lives, you’re not talking about a kid’s education here,” Potvin said. “If we lose the program, (if) it diminishes, we lose the student. These kids don’t just go home to their parents, they disappear. They’re gone.”

The Store Next Door is working to expand its staff and services for homeless students in its new home at Longley School. The organization provides material goods and referrals to community programs, but hopes to add other services related to education, hygiene and meals in the future.


Potvin asked that the committee at least preserve the current daytime operations of the organization.

The $50,000 proposed cut would be a reduction to current services, Langlais said. However, he’s hopeful that funding from outside sources can be identified to support The Store Next Door’s operations.

The organization’s relationship with the school district is unique, he said. The Store Next Door is a nonprofit organization separate from the school, however the district pays staff salaries and has provided operation space in Longley School.

Besides The Store Next Door, the district also has full-time McKinney-Vento staff – liaisons for homeless students and their families – who are tasked with identifying and removing barriers to learning for homeless students, Langlais said.

Beaudoin questioned whether Langlais could take another look at making cuts to administrative operations in order to continue to fun student-facing positions and programs, like The Store Next Door.

Langlais agreed, but shared his doubts as to whether more cuts could be made to the administrative team.

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