Madawaska school budget passes; town manager calls it bittersweet

By Julia Bayly, BDN Staff
Posted Jan. 08, 2013, at 1:47 p.m.

MADAWASKA, Maine — Halfway into the fiscal year, the Madawaska School Department has an approved budget.

More than 200 residents attended a special town meeting Monday night where the $6.7 million 2012-2013 budget was approved overwhelmingly by a show of hands.

“Yes, we have a [school] budget now,” Town Manager Christina Therrien said Tuesday morning. “We can send out our tax bills now.”

Residents approved the municipal budget in November but turned down the proposed school budget, demanding that the school committee come back with a revised budget reduced by $525,000.

Monday’s approved budget features a $513,000 decrease from last year to include a reduction in local tax effort of $251,601.

The school committee met those reductions by eliminating teaching and staff positions, cutting administrative salaries, mandating furlough days, reducing staff hours and cutting some extracurricular activities.

At a December meeting, the panel voted to eliminate the equivalent of 12 full-time teaching and staff positions with the hope the community would support funding the teaching positions through the end of the current school year.

The cuts in teaching positions represent more than 20 percent of the 43-member faculty and include the Gifted and Talented program teacher and one teacher each from kindergarten and the business, mathematics, science, social studies, English and French departments.

The approved budget does provide funding to retain the full teaching staff until the end of this school year.

Superintendent Terry Wood was unavailable for comment Tuesday morning.

Both the municipal and school budgets were facing cuts stemming from heavy tax revenue losses because of property tax abatements granted to Twin Rivers Paper Co., which had its valuation reduced from $170 million to $85 million during a four-year period beginning in fiscal year 2010.

Continued reductions in state revenue sharing to municipalities also are taking a toll, Therrien said.

“There is the realization that tough times have reached northern Maine and these [budget reductions] are the wave of the future,” she said. “Things will not be able to continue as they have been.”

Passing this recent school budget was a relief, she said, adding that it also was bittersweet, given the impact the cuts are having on teaching staff and programs.

“I am happy to have a budget, but this is hard on the community,” she said. “Especially when you look at the cuts we’ve had to make in the school system that has always been such a source of pride in this community.”

Madawaska budget committees will have little time to rest as the town and school department are preparing to address the 2013-2014 budget in the face of new curtailments called for by Gov. Paul LePage, Therrien said.

“Those curtailments are a bit of salt on the wounds of the budgets we are struggling with,” she said. “The feeling is the state is trying to balance its budget on the backs of the municipalities and it is making our budgetary issue very difficult to deal with.”

CORRECTION:

A previous headline for this story incorrectly stated that the superintendent of Madawaska School Department called the budget approval “bittersweet.”

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/01/08/news/aroostook/madawaska-school-budget-passes-superintendent-calls-it-bittersweet/ printed on September 17, 2014