May 28, 2018
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Madawaska School Committee to vote on drastic cuts Thursday

By Julia Bayly, BDN Staff

MADAWASKA, Maine — After weeks of negotiations and meetings, the Madawaska School Committee will act on what it hopes will be its final budget proposal during an emergency meeting Thursday.

“We will be voting on that final budget at that meeting,” committee member Walter Desrosier said Wednesday afternoon.

The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday in the superintendent’s conference room.

Residents then will vote on the budget at a special town meeting sometime at the start of next year.

In November, voters turned down the proposed school budget after the committee failed to make $250,000 in cuts and instead increased the budget by $275,000 over the previous year.

Residents mandated that the school committee reduce the proposed budget by $525,000 before presenting it to voters again. Town voters approved a municipal budget that reflected $250,000 in cuts from the previous year.
Since then, school committee members have met with members of the teachers’ negotiating team in an effort to reach a compromise on cuts to teacher salaries as a way to make up at least part of the shortfall.

In an effort to meet those cuts, the committee last week proposed eliminating the equivalent of 12 full-time teaching and staff positions, representing more than 20 percent of the 43-member faculty.

To help meet the mandated $525,000 in cuts, the board eliminated the gifted and talented program teacher and one teacher each from kindergarten and the business, mathematics, science, social studies, English and French departments.

The committee also eliminated a half-time physical education teacher, a half-time elementary school teacher, a half-time education technician, a half-time school nurse, a custodian and a secretary.

“I cannot recommend the cuts,” Superintendent Terry Wood told the committee after the members came out of a two-hour executive session and before they voted last week. “But these are options.”

After that vote, Wood was asked to finish the details of the budget and to come back later with it for the committee’s final vote.

Wood did not return calls for comment Thursday.

Among those facing loss of her position is high school teacher Gisele Faucher, a member of the Madawaska Education Association — the teachers’ collective bargaining group.

The position cuts would go into effect in March, but school committee members remain hopeful that voters will approve spending an additional $175,000 to allow those teachers to finish out the school year.

“I have to believe that our citizens support and value education for the common good of our community,” Faucher said in a prepared statement issued last week. “I am grateful that our superintendent and school committee have stated that they cannot support disrupting the current school year by laying off teachers in March.”

On Thursday, Desrosier said he believed the funding to retain those teachers through June is included in the new budget, adding he has not had time to study the final proposal in detail.

“I am confident in saying we will be able to keep them to the end of the year,” he added.

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 during a four-year period beginning in fiscal year 2010.

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