BREWER, Maine — Teachers said they were frightened for their jobs and for programs offered to students after hearing Monday night that one out of every nine positions may be chopped if all the cuts proposed in Augusta are put into place.
“I’m scared,” one Brewer High School teacher, who asked not to be identified, said after the meeting ended.
“It’s worrisome,” said Lucy Girodet, an English teacher at Brewer High School. “It’s worrisome because there are variables we don’t know yet. We need those other pieces.”
Superintendent Daniel Lee and School Department business manager Gretchen Gardner outlined the budget figures for fiscal year 2013-14 to the school board. The budget will be presented to teachers and staff Tuesday during a voluntary meeting.
“We estimate we’re probably going to be $1.4 million short. In human terms that 24 to 27 positions — that’s mostly teachers,” said Lee, who described the budget process as the “most difficult” one he has ever worked on in his decades as a school administrator. “This is going to have a serious impact on our schools.”
Lee and Gardner are dedicating about half of their workdays to figuring out a way to cut the projected $1,364,155 shortfall.
“Personnel is 80 percent of our budget, so that is where you have to look,” the school finance director said after the meeting.
The presentation by Lee and Gardner did not break down the figure to specific dollar amounts, but they listed a reduction in state revenues, a shift in a portion of teachers’ retirement payments from the state to local school districts, and changes in health insurance as items that contributed to the deficit. They also discussed tuition rates — students from outside the district account for about 50 percent of the high school population — and how cuts to programs hurt the rate, which is already about $1,000 less per student than the state average.
“You can’t cut your way out of this problem,” school board member David Austin said.
The School Department has tried to keep a flat budget in recent years, and has been able to do so in part by eliminating positions, Lee said.
“In the past five years we’ve eliminated 30 positions,” the superintendent said.
There were 256 employees in 2008 and there are now 226.
“Personnel reduction was the place where we ended up going to every year to balance the budget,” Gardner said. “By the end of last year, we found ourselves down by 30 positions.”
The state already cut $12.58 million from education funding in December, removing $81,169 in state funding from Brewer’s school budget revenue, and Gov. Paul LePage’s budget would flat-fund schools at the lower rate next year.
“We have to try and figure out a way to solve this,” Gardner said. “It is going to have to be a whole bunch of things to come up with the difference. Will we have to cut the budget, or ask the city for more,” are among questions that still need to be answered, she said.
The governor’s proposed $6.3 billion biennial budget, which includes a two-year suspension of the state’s municipal revenue sharing program that offsets municipal property taxes, would hurt communities all over Maine, including Brewer, the school officials said.
“They are going to be in as big of a hole as we are,” school committee Chairwoman Janet McIntosh said of the Brewer City Council.
If there was ever a time to contact local state leaders, it is now, she said, adding residents also can learn more about the governor’s proposed budget at an information session starting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Brewer Auditorium.
Special education teacher Herb Taggart said after the school board meeting that he agreed with Austin’s comments about cutting programs and added that his department is “one of those things that would be frightening if we cut.”