MILLINOCKET, Maine — An undetermined number of School Department employees will get pink slips over the next few weeks as the School Committee prepares for possible layoffs, officials said.
Committee members reluctantly agreed Tuesday to mail the notifications to comply with a state law that would force the school system to pay the employees’ salaries for a year if notifications do not come by June 2, Chairman Thomas Malcolm said.
The department has sent possible termination notices to employees, usually teachers, for the last three years as committee members have struggled to pare the school budget in line with Town Council desires, Malcolm said. No large-scale layoffs have occurred.
“We don’t anticipate any layoffs,” Malcolm said Tuesday. “We basically have to do this to protect ourselves. We don’t want to lay anyone off, but if layoffs do come [later], we don’t want to be stuck paying salaries.”
No one liked the idea. Committee member Kevin Gregory complained bitterly that it was cruel to teachers and other workers to leave unemployment hanging over them until the committee and the Town Council resolve the school system’s 2009-10 budget.
At one point, he wondered why the department’s management didn’t just send pink slips to everyone in the department. Superintendent Sara Alberts, Malcolm and committee members Shelley Farrington, Arnold Hopkins and Michael Jewers explained the necessity of the plan to him.
Having been elected in November with 2,025 votes, Gregory is experiencing his first budget as a school board member.
The board’s proposed $7.6 million budget expands by less than a single percentage point over the 2008-09 budget and cuts the local taxpayers’ burden by about $100,000, but council Chairman Wallace Paul and other councilors have signaled strongly that all town budgets must decrease, especially the school system’s.
“The council, as a group and by consensus, sees the need to adjust to some impending problems, but more importantly to adjust to the new reality of our shrinking town,” Paul wrote in a recent e-mail. “Our school enrollment is dropping, and that drop is in fact accelerating. Putting [an extra $200,000 or $300,000] every year into this budget is not the wisest use of taxpayer money.
“More importantly, putting hundreds of thousands of dollars into a budget that does not support any ideas, plans or innovations that move us into our new reality is foolish, wasteful and wrong,” he said. “I hope the school board, which is plugged into the current system, sees this and takes leadership. The current position of ‘Just Say NO’ to requests, ideas and suggestions is wholly inadequate.”
Alberts said she believed that cutting any teacher positions would damage the education provided to town children.
The committee and council will continue to address the municipal and school budgets over the next two weeks.