MADAWASKA, Maine — The Madawaska School Committee agreed unanimously Monday night to cut teacher salaries by nearly 10 percent and to implement three furlough days to meet $525,000 in voter-mandated school budget cuts.
“By making these cuts we can save a majority of the teaching positions and a majority of the athletic and extracurricular activities,” said Yves Dube, chairman of the school committee.
The proposed 9.45 percent cut in teacher salaries, a two percent cut in administrative salaries and three furlough days were presented to the committee after a five-hour meeting Monday between members of the Madawaska Education Association — the teachers’ negotiating arm — the superintendent and the school committee’s negotiating team. It was during that meeting the teachers’ collective bargaining agreement was reopened for negotiation.
More than 200 residents then packed into the Madawaska High School library for the school committee meeting at 4 p.m. Monday and stayed through a nearly two-hour-long executive session in which the full committee addressed the reopened collective bargaining agreement.
Teaching positions, academic and athletic programs and extracurricular activities were all on the chopping block as the Madawaska School Committee looked for ways to cut more than $525,000 from the current budget.
Residents got their first look at proposed budget cuts last Thursday when the Madawaska School Committee held an emergency meeting to discuss potential cuts for the current fiscal year, which started July 1.
To meet the more than half-million dollars in cuts, Superintendent Terry Wood had suggested one option that included eliminating nine full-time teaching positions and several support staff and ed tech positions; cutting staff hours; reducing administrative pay by 1 percent; implementing four mandatory furlough days; eliminating middle school, junior varsity and varsity athletics; shortening the school year by one day; and cutting the pay of all teachers by 2.2 percent.
Programs and staff positions could be saved, Wood said, under an alternate plan calling for an 11 percent salary reduction for teachers.
At the time committee members postponed taking any action until they had time to study the proposed cuts.
Over the weekend members of the teachers’ association met to craft their own proposal for meeting the shortfall.
“This is about the students and our community can’t afford to balance the budget on the backs of students,” Gisele Faucher, teacher association negotiating team member, said during the public comment period of Monday’s afternoon public meeting. “The educators in this system are willing to do our fair share to help in this fiscal crisis.”
The negotiating team, she told the crowd, put forth an offer to reduce teacher salaries by 5 percent over three years through a combination of pay cuts and furlough days and with the knowledge the proposal could still result in elimination of teaching positions.
After close to an hour of public comment, Dube, the committee chair, addressed the gathering before he presented the panel’s proposal and the five members voted.
“The primary issue that is really on everyone’s mind is we need to solve these issues for the kids [and] we are being asked to do the near impossible,” Dube said. “We are now at a point where a decision needs to be rendered. The people of Madawaska asked us to cut this budget [and] we need to make a decision and we will make one here tonight.”
Even with the 9.45 percent cut in teacher salaries, there could still be positions and programs lost, he said.
Wood said it is unknown exactly which positions and programs may still be affected by the proposed cuts. Wood said she needed to work out all the details before posting warrant items for a special town meeting to be held in the near future. She expected residents would get to vote on the proposal later this month.
The need for the budget cutbacks was prompted by property tax abatements granted to Twin Rivers Paper Co., reducing its valuation from $170 million to $85 million over a four-year period beginning in fiscal year 2010.
“This is extremely difficult,” school committee member Walter Desrosier said. “No one that I have crossed paths with has an idea that would not impact the education of our students [but] it is our moral obligation to move forward and make the cuts, as difficult as they are.”
After the meeting, members of the teachers association said they were shocked their 5 percent salary concession was increased to 9.45 percent.
“We put together something that showed a significant cut,” Faucher said. “We knew the problem is not going to go away in a year and we wanted to do our part and we negotiated today in good faith.”
Faucher said she is not sure of the status of the current teachers’ contract following the reopened negotiations on Monday.