BIDDEFORD — The proposed $32.6 million Biddeford School District budget narrowly received approval from the city council Thursday night, with Mayor Alan Casavant breaking a 4-4 tie. Casavant, as school committee chairman, also broke a tie to approve the budget in a school committee vote last month.

The budget cannot pass without final approval from voters. A referendum is scheduled for Aug. 16.

This is the second go-around to approve a school budget, after a prior proposal failed to get final approval at the June 26 referendum.

The current budget proposal is about $400,000 less than the previous budget. The reductions come from expenditure reductions and an increase in revenue.

Superintendent of Schools Jeremy Ray, who came on the job in the beginning of July, worked with Business Manager Terry Gauvin and others to discover nearly $121,000 of increased revenue, mostly American Recovery and Reinvestment Act fund carry-forward.

Some of the reductions come from a more accurate picture of staffing costs, based on approved contracts with most of the school employees’ labor unions; reducing the technology budget; lower electric costs; reducing maintenance; leaving some unfilled positions vacant; and eliminating two special education positions.

At Thursday’s meeting, Councilor Richard Rhames proposed a motion, which failed, to reinstate about $46,000 for an educational technician at the John F. Kennedy Kindergarten center and a library aide at Biddeford Intermediate School.

Rhames said this addition had been proposed at the school budget meeting, but the “zeal of budget cutters prevailed, unfortunately.”

He said eliminating the proposed library position will cause a reduction in library hours, which is unfair to students.

“It just seems to me a foolish economy,” he said. “The amount of money we’re talking about is quite modest, a couple of pennies on the mil rate or something.”

Councilor Bradley Cote said he couldn’t support Rhames’ proposal, even though “I’m probably going to sound like the bad guy.” He said he felt the school committee was best equipped to make budget recommendations, and this is what was proposed.

Ray said that in creating the budget, he had to be responsible to the interests of the students and responsive to the voters’ decision to defeat the last budget proposal.

He said the two positions that were cut did not exist in last year’s budget, and with eliminating positions, he looked at those that were unfilled or didn’t existent in last year’s budget. Knowing of possible revenue shortfalls in the future, Ray said he did not want to fill positions only to eliminate them later, increasing the commitment to workmen’s compensation and unemployment benefits.

“I felt like ”¦ trying to be responsible here, this was the best direction to go,” he said. “This is where we can go, without losing current staff.”

Casavant said he supported Ray’s proposal, and said he applauded his “rapid grasp” of budget matters. He said the bottom line was the budget proposal needed to appeal to voters, noting the second rejection in Regional School Unit 23’s school budget Tuesday, which puts “everything in turmoil.”

— Dina Mendros contributed to this story. Staff Writer Liz Gotthelf can be contacted at 282-1535, Ext. 325 or [email protected].

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