— Lewiston superintendent proposes 8.6% spending increase, aims to cut with school board

LEWISTON — Superintendent Jake Langlais reviewed a proposed $101 million budget with the school board on Wednesday, a figure he aims to reduce over the next few weeks.

The spending plan represents an 8.6% increase over the current operating budget of $93 million. The school committee will need to remove items or increase taxes as part of the proposal.

“When you see big numbers tonight, I have to let you know that I anticipate this process will involve many recommendations from me and my team that we will work on and make tough decisions to reduce the numbers you see tonight. “, says Langlais.

School administrators are prioritizing improving the special education program and seeking funds for certain items that have been paid for with state and federal assistance over the past two years.

Langlais attributed further increases to inflation, rising wages and benefits, increased English language student needs, as well as loans previously approved by residents for capital improvement projects.

Some of the government-assisted programs and positions will end as early as this fall, but most will continue through the summer of 2023, Deputy Superintendent Karen Paquette said.

“We’re not looking to increase a lot of resources this year, we’re looking to recoup resources from relief funding that’s going to expire,” Langlais said.

Educational workers, reading recovery stations and social and emotional learning stations will continue to be funded by government assistance during the next school year.

So will the Lewiston Summer School, which moved to relief funding last year. The program will operate this year using temporary funds, but will need to be incorporated into next year’s budget.

If the district can’t find funding for the program in the next budget review, it may not work, Langlais said.

In order to reduce Lewiston’s tight budget, the district is looking to eliminate vacancies it can do without.

“When we talk about very severe cuts, it doesn’t take long for us to start talking about people,” Langlais said. “(Staff and benefits) is a very expensive item.”

Staff and benefits make up two-thirds of the district’s budget, he said.

Langlais and Kirsten Crafts, director of special education, identified 18 special education positions — mostly education technicians — to be cut from the program.

“That’s a big number,” Langlais said, later adding, “These are vacancies that, due to programming changes and student enrollments, we were able to realize that some weren’t needed initially and that the others are not currently needed. because of the registrations.

A 2020 audit by American Education Consultants found the district was hiring more instructional technicians than needed. The audit also found that Lewiston could save money by reducing the number of students sent to out-of-district programs by hiring its own staff.

“What we spend to transport our special populations is unimaginable,” Langlais said. “A lot of that cost is due to these reclassifications because we can’t serve them at home.”

If the district could hire staff to serve only 10 or 11 students in Lewiston schools, “we would save all the costs of sending them elsewhere and more,” Langlais said.

According to district data, 116 students are enrolled in outplacement programs.

Last year, school officials presented the school committee with a more conservative spending plan with fewer items and initiatives. By the end of the discussion, 70 items had been added to the budget by the school committee, many of which had been removed by school administrators in the early stages of the process.

“I’m taking a very deliberate and intentional approach to not doing that this year,” Langlais said. “I think that puts us in a difficult position with the community and also the city council who feel like things are moving forward and then all of a sudden something has changed.”

Rather than adding items to the budget that the school board is passionate about, it aims to start high and cut the budget.

Langlais said he hoped to create a “conservative budget given the times, but also a budget that we can maximize to best meet the needs of our students”.

“I think the ratepayers in our community have been very supportive of education,” Langlais said. “We have to be realistic about the constraints we have with what people can contribute and the level of need we have.”

The proposed tax rate increase was not available Wednesday and will be shared at an upcoming budget workshop.

According to city administrator Heather Hunter, a $2.2 million increase in spending would be roughly equivalent to a $1 increase in the tax rate, or $150 more on a property valued at $150,000.

The next budget workshop will be at 5:30 p.m. on March 7 at Connors Elementary School.

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