LEWISTON — Gary and Diane Savard don’t normally vote on the school budget, but they went to Longley School on Tuesday to put their “two cents in” on this year’s proposed $111.47 million budget.

The budget is a $9.48 million, a 9.29%, increase from the current budget.

Diane Savard said they came out for one reason: property taxes are too high in Lewiston. “They’re way too high as it is,” she said. “And I said, ‘Oh no, not again.'”

Savard said they usually don’t bother voting because they expect the budget to pass, and in previous years the tax increase hasn’t been as dramatic.

Others speaking to the Sun Journal on Tuesday said they came out to support the schools and its students, especially during a particularly fraught budget year for school districts across the state.

The combined city and school budgets of $176.22 million would increase the property tax mill rate by $3, to $33 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The majority of the $3 increase comes from the school budget, which accounts for $2.39, while municipal budget increases account for 42 cents and the remaining 19 cents comes from the county assessment.


The $33 rate would add $600 to the annual tax bill for a home valued at $200,000.

Peg Hoffman and Jim Cogan came out Tuesday to support the budget.

Hoffman said schools, and teachers in particular, are often faced with cuts, with teachers having to purchase their own supplies.

“We need to invest,” she said. “It’s an investment. People invested when I was a kid. Even though we’re retirement age, we have a responsibility to sustain that.”

Nearing the lunch hour Tuesday, voter turnout at the polls was fairly slow, with light waves of voters cycling through.

City Clerk Kathy Montejo said turnout had been steady, and the 70 absentee ballots requested prior to Tuesday was higher than the normal average of about 20, she said.


The school budget was last voted down in 2016, when the budget failed by just six votes. Turnout was much higher, as the second vote in June of that year coincided with the statewide primary election.

During budget talks, school officials said a combination of factors — from increased staffing expenses to the cost of sending students to special-purpose private schools — has contributed to the large increase. School officials have said that if further budget cuts were required, it would mean jobs.

According to previous Sun Journal reporting, the school department pays nearly $15 million to send roughly 133 students to schools outside the district. That number stems from a state law that requires districts to pay to send students to special-purpose private schools when they need special education services not available in their home school districts.

The costs have gotten so high that Superintendent Jake Langlais is hoping to expand the school department’s special education programs enough to bring most of them back to city schools, which would reduce costs.

Nel Anctil, who had just voted Tuesday at Longley, said the budget was “way too high an increase.”

“We can’t afford it anymore. I’m a retired senior and I can’t afford the increase,” he said. “I feel bad, the budget is for a good cause — the schools — but we’ve got to stop bringing people in. We can’t support that growth.”


According to Langlais, student enrollment increased by 150 students this year.

On the referendum ballot, one question asks, “Do you favor approving the Lewiston School Department’s budget for the upcoming school year that was adopted by the Lewiston City Council?

A second question asks whether voters deem the budget to be “too high,” “acceptable,” or “too low.”

Holly Sysko, having just voted as well, said the school budget is “never enough in my opinion.”

“The more we can do for our schools the better,” she said, adding she believes that the next school year “will be a challenge” due to staff positions that the district can no longer support.

Though the school department will not receive any more Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds next school year, school officials have been preparing for it by not filling positions supported by the funds as staff leave.

“I’m voting because I want to support the budget and let them know we’re behind the schools,” Sysko said.

Polls close Tuesday at 8 p.m., and Montejo said she expects to have results by 9 p.m.

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