Thursday, April 17, 2014
AUGUSTA — A crowd of parents, residents and educators told the Board of Education on Monday night that the proposed $26.7 million school budget spends too much on administration and sports, and not enough on teachers and education.
The budget, which is up for board approval Wednesday night, would require an additional $620,000 from taxpayers compared to last year's budget.
About 50 people attended the board meeting Monday night at the Capital Area Technical Center, many of them educators wearing blue Augusta Education Association union T-shirts with the words "Proud to be an Educator" emblazoned on the back.
A number of them advocated for cutting administrators to free up money for programs marked for elimination in the budget. Others suggested making sports "pay to play" at Cony High School, to save funds to spend more on teachers and educational programs.
"We're giving administrators raises and giving new administrators a substantially higher salary than those who departed," said parent and Capital Area Technical Center staff member Erin Sirois. "If money needs to be saved, please consider cutting some administrative positions and show the community where your priorities lie."
Sirois said she loves sports — her son plays hockey — but she doesn't think it would be asking too much to ask parents to pay for their children to participate in sports programs to help offset their cost.
The proposed budget includes $435,000 for sports and other extracurricular activities at Cony High School.
Resident Tom Connors said the school budget looked so administratively top-heavy that "at some point you're going to have one administrator for every program." He suggested studying how Augusta's administrative staffing compares to other schools across the country. He did not suggest any specific administrator's job to cut, however.
Board member Kimberly Martin said she would support conducting such a study of administrative staffing levels in the future.
Resident Lester Wilkinson, whose wife is a teacher and who has had four kids go through Augusta schools, urged board members to present more information on the budget to taxpayers, including the fact that last year Augusta spent some $1.6 million less on teachers than the state's much-criticized Essential Programs and Services funding model indicated should be spent.
Monday's public input session was likely the last before the board vote on the budget Wednesday. Board members must send the budget to the Augusta City Council by April 1. City councilors must approve the final, combined school and city budget.
Board Chairwoman Susan Campbell asked speakers to limit their comments to around three minutes so all would have a chance to speak. As people spoke, a timer with bold, foot-high numbers counting up was displayed on a wall of the CATC cafeteria.
No one spoke in support of the budget proposal.
The budget first proposed by interim Superintedent James Anastasio and school principals was $27.1 million, $824,000 higher than last year's budget.
At previous budget workshops, however, Anastasio proposed nearly $400,000 in cuts, including $75,000 to be saved by not filling a vacant director of technology position, $50,000 by not filling a proposed central office bookkeeper position, $185,000 in renovations to Capital Area Technical Center that will instead be included in a lease purchase plan, and $41,000 in not filling a proposed new grade seven teaching position officials now don't believe is needed.
Other cuts in the budget include a bookkeeper at Capital Area Technical Center, saving about $26,000 by shifting bookkeeping responsibilities for the technical center to the bookkeeper at the attached Cony High School; cutting the PALS, or Preparing for Adult Living program at the technical center, saving about $78,000 by having the sending schools provide the program services; and the elimination of the introduction to building technology and introduction to automotive careers classes at the technical center, saving about $62,000 each.
The budget, as proposed, would require $620,000 more from local property taxpayers.
Anastasio said the $620,000 increase is equal to the amount of potential cost shifts from the state, including a proposal in Gov. Paul LePage's state budget to shift more of the retirement costs of employees from the state to local schools, and a state budget curtailment.
Keith Edwards — 621-5647