- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—LEWISTON — How to spend — or not spend — a half million dollars will be decided by Lewiston School Committee members next month.

Lewiston is receiving $553,000 more for education from the state than initially expected, Superintendent Bill Webster said Monday.

The windfall came from Maine legislators passing the state budget with more money for education in June, after Lewiston voters passed the $64.7 million budget on May 12.

“It’s definitely good news,” Webster said. It would have been helpful if the state budget had been resolved before local school districts voted on budgets, “but I’m not going to bemoan the fact there’s additional funding,” Webster said. “It will benefit the schools and the city.”

Unlike last year, when a second Lewiston school budget referendum was held, the School Committee has the authority to decide how to spend the money, Webster said.

After consulting with the city attorney, City Administrator Ed Barrett and the Maine Municipal Association, “The bottom line appears to be the School Committee has the authority” to decide how to use the money, Webster said.

The expectation of the Lewiston City Council is that the $553,000 will not be spent and used to minimize the tax burden next year, Webster said. The council has a long-term concern on the overall tax burden, he said.

In the $64.7 million budget passed in May, $45 million came from the state, the rest from Lewiston taxpayers. That budget increased property taxes by 5.7 percent, or $81 more for a homeowner with a $150,000 home.

Taxes will have to go up again in 2016.

Under the state Essential Programs and Services law, next year the local contribution to Lewiston schools is expected to go up about $1 million in order for Lewiston to continue receiving 100 percent of its share of the state education funding formula.

The School Committee will discuss the extra funding at the Aug. 17 meeting, Webster said.

“I don’t know what will happen. There are valid reasons to support either not doing anything and carrying it over to next year … (or) There are also school needs.”

The school needs, such as hiring more teachers to prevent overcrowding in kindergarten classes, may be able to be covered within the existing budget, Webster said.

As of last week, there were 400 incoming kindergartners registered. But typically in late August, “we have 50 or so students come out of the woodwork,” which can mean hiring teachers after school has started.

Earlier this month, the Auburn School Committee learned it received an additional $488,404 from the state budget.

Auburn voted to spend about $200,404 for programs that had been cut, and save the remaining $288,000 to offset taxes next year.

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(c)2015 the Sun Journal (Lewiston, Maine)

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