Brewer school layoff notices to be sent May 1, but may be rescinded, officials say

Posted April 01, 2013, at 10:30 p.m.

BREWER, Maine — School leaders learned Monday night that pink slips for two dozen or more teachers and staffers, who are on the chopping block due to a newly estimated $1.55 million budget shortfall, will be issued next month.

“I think a lot of people will be upset on May 1st,” school committee chairwoman Janet McIntosh said, stressing that she is worried about teacher reactions.

How many jobs are actually cut, if any, will be determined in the coming months as state legislators and the governor try to iron out a budget, she and Superintendent Daniel Lee said.

“The final budgets are not done until June,” McIntosh said. “I hope teachers understand.”

While state legislators work on the budget, the school department is under statutory obligation to notify teachers and staff who may not have a job next year, Lee said.

“Next week, you have a meeting to try and settle on where we’re at,” he said to the school board, explaining the two-step process to notify employees. “At that time, I’ll give you positions to eliminate. Between April 1 and the May meeting, we’ll determine who these people are.”

The selected employees will be notified on or around May 1.

“In the May meeting, you will vote to layoff teachers by name,” Lee said.

Lee said that he expects the budget process in Augusta to go down to the last possible minute, which means that if things improve financially, “you can withdraw the letters.”

One out of every nine positions, mostly teachers, may be eliminated if all the cuts and changes proposed in Augusta under Gov. Paul LePage’s biennial budget are put into place, Lee and school department business manager Gretchen Gardner said last month when they outlined the budget figures for fiscal year 2013-14 to the school board. At that time the shortfall was estimated at $1.4 million.

That amount has increased to $1.55 million, according to Gardner, who presented the first draft of the revenue budget at Monday’s meeting.

“Being April 1, I wish this were an April Fool’s joke giving you the revenue picture,” she said to start out her presentation about the $19,294,493 preliminary budget.

The school is going to ask the city for more than $6.4 million, an increase of $252,000 or about 4 percent, and is getting about $184,000 more in state revenues. Proposed changes in teacher retirement contributions that are expected to cost Brewer about $260,000 “more than eats the increase from the state,” Gardner said.

The draft revenue budget is nearly $695,000 less than this year and shows drops in revenue for state ward reimbursements, out-of-district tuition, special education tuition and fund balance, she said.

“The biggest decrease of all on this sheet is the carry for fund balance,” Gardner said. “We are proposing we use half of that amount [for fiscal year 2013-14] and saving the rest for FY ’15.”

Nearly $1.77 million was used this year, and $700,000 is in the budget line for the coming school year.

Lee, who went to Augusta to testify in front of the appropriations committee, said Brewer is getting the same amount of state education funding as six years ago.

“You can’t operate a school with 2007 dollars — you just can’t do it,” he said, adding he is holding out hope that legislators will make adjustments that communities across the state can live with.

“It would be my dream that nobody loses a job,” Lee said. “That’s my dream.”

Lucy Girodet, chief negotiator for the Brewer Education Association and an English teacher at Brewer High School, said after the meeting that she will be letting teachers know that getting a termination notice does not automatically mean they are losing their jobs.

“We’re not giving up,” McIntosh said after the meeting.

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