Augusta school budget slashed by $1 million after city council orders cuts ahead of vote

AUGUSTA — By order of city council, school officials cut $1 million from the proposed education budget ahead of Tuesday’s vote on the $34.59 million spending plan.

Major expenses reduced include $175,000 for photocopiers; $138,000 for purchased services; $119,000 for salary adjustments due to retirements or resignations; $110,000 for a technology position; and $212,000 in health insurance. Tens of thousands of dollars have also been cut for expenses such as educational/non-educational books and supplies, legal fees, professional development, and teacher tuition.

The original school budget of $35.59 million contained slightly higher spending but no increase for taxpayers when it was presented to city council last month by Augusta School Board President Amanda Olson and Superintendent James Anastasio. This is because school officials had dipped into the fund balance, using money held in reserves to balance the budget.

ButHe proposed Augusta City Budget will be presented with a 4.7% increase and will be the first time taxes have been raised in the city in five years, prompting councilors to call for school budget cuts. The school board finalized the additional $1 million in cuts on May 31, even as some school officials openly bristled at the city council’s request.

A detailed list of the million-dollar cuts was not publicly available until the Kennebec Journal requested the list this week, finally receiving the information Friday from Olson after the school district failed to provide it. .

Olson said she was surprised when councilors asked for the million-dollar cuts when the budget was presented to them last month, “especially since there was a lot of talk about not not wanting to make cuts that impact the kids in our town, and to end up here was disappointing.

The city council can’t tell the board of education where to make the cuts, but it can tell the council that it needs to cut its budget by any amount of money, so it’s approved by the city .

“The approach they (the city council) were taking was that the school budget was almost half of the city budget, so they (Augusta Public Schools) should be a partner in the process of troubleshooting,” Olson said during the May 25 workshop.

Councilors have asked if the Board of Education’s budget could tap into more of their fund balance, but the district has already used $2.5 million from those reserves in the original proposed budget so as not to increase funds. taxpayers. “Their logic of not using their fund balance — but asking us to use ours — didn’t make sense to me,” Anastasio said. “We were asked to do what they wouldn’t do.”

Regarding the cuts that have been made, Anastasio reviewed possible areas that could see additional cuts, but wanted to ensure that the spending cuts did not directly impact students. Some cuts have been easier than others, especially in already overbudgeted areas, such as health and dental insurance where an estimated amount is added to the budget until the actual amount is known. In health insurance, the district could cut $212,740 and in dental insurance, they cut $7,797.

The administration cut $75,000 from the Hussey Elementary Construction Project, where the district is saving money from its budget to go toward building a new school. Anastasio said the school is still on the Ministry of Education’s list to receive a new building, but it won’t be this year.

The salaried positions of teachers retiring at the end of the year also helped the district save money. With the departure of the top-level teachers, the district reduced by $119,464.

After the district made the biggest cuts, more items had to be cut that weighed on classroom instruction — books and educational supplies were cut by $40,000 and field trips from Cony Middle School were reduced by $2,000.

The copiers were discussed at a board meeting about whether the district would buy the machines outright or lease them to buy. The budget for the machines was cut by $175,000, leaving the district to use bail through the city to get them.

“It got to the point where I said to Jim (Anastasio) at 2 p.m. before the meeting, I can’t squeeze anymore without cutting programs,” Casparious said a week later at the board meeting. education from May 31, to approve the cuts made.

A technology position, designed by the board during the pandemic as the classroom moved online, was at risk of being cut as a new position because it had not yet been filled and a job description did not exist. had not yet been created. But the board fought to keep the $110,000 position and will rename the position at a future staff meeting.

Transportation for the homeless was also cut, amounting to $15,000, but Anastasia says it can be sustained through grants if the need is there, even with teacher tuition, which is $25,000. Anastasio reiterated that the cuts made were historically based on what was spent on those areas, but there should be enough budget for next year.

Polling stations will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday to vote on the school budget and other issues. Polling places are based on residential addresses, with those living in Ward 1 voting at the Buker Community Center, 22 Armory St.; Ward 2 in Downtown Augusta, 16 Cony St.; those in Augusta Civic Center Ward 3, 76 Community Drive; and those in Ward 4 of Cony High School, 60 Pierce Drive.

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