Brewer school budget reduces staff cuts from 24 to 6, but asks city for $1.2 million more

Posted April 08, 2013, at 10:09 p.m.
Last modified April 08, 2013, at 10:31 p.m.

BREWER, Maine — The uproar about budget shortfalls causing more than two dozen teacher and staff cuts pushed school leaders to reduce the cuts to six, but the result is taxpayers will be asked to pay $1.2 million more.

“We recognize it’s a huge local commitment,” Superintendent Daniel Lee told the Brewer School Committee as he and School Department business manager Gretchen Gardner presented the latest round of figures. “It’s the elephant in the room.”

Even though the most recent budget reduced the number of eliminated positions to six, a total of 15 people — 14 teachers and one administrator — will be notified before May about the possible elimination of their positions.

That list includes five elementary teachers, a social studies teacher, a 1.5-time modern language teacher, a half-time math teacher, a music teacher, a physical education teacher, a guidance counselor, an occupational therapist and the director of instruction.

“I’m a mother and a teacher and I’m glad to see there are changes for the better, but I’m still concerned about my children’s education — short term and long term,” said one woman in attendance who asked not to be identified.

The teacher’s job is on the list of 14.

“Sure, I’m worried, but I put kids first,” she said.

When the budget figures for fiscal year 2013-14 were presented last month, the shortfall was estimated at $1.4 million. That amount increased to $1.55 million, according to Gardner, who presented the first draft of the revenue budget at the April 1 school board meeting, where it was announced that pink slips would be sent out to 24 to 30 teachers and staffers.

“Based on feedback from the school board and others, we’ve come up with a budget with six positions [cut] rather than 30,” Lee said. “Perhaps these can be avoided with unpredicted retirements, and additional revenues from the state.”

The $19.3 million budget presented at the April 1 meeting had the city’s appropriation at about $6.1 million, an increase of $252,000, or 4.1 percent over this year’s budget. The revenue budget for fiscal year 2013-14 presented Monday is for a $20.3 million budget, with an increase from the city of $1,260,000 or 20.5 percent.

“This is really encouraging to us compared to what we saw last week,” Lee said.

“We want to keep people working,” he also said.

The draft revenue budget is now $327,489 or 1.6 percent more than this year, and shows decreases in revenue for state ward reimbursements, out-of-district tuition, special education tuition and fund balance.

The School Department asked for no additional funds three years ago, $125,000 less two years ago and $487,000 more last year.

Even with the increase in taxpayer revenue projected in the most recent budget, there is still a half-million-dollar shortfall, which means more cuts or adjustments will be needed, the superintendent said.

LePage’s proposed $6.3 billion biennial budget includes a two-year suspension of the state’s municipal revenue sharing program that offsets municipal property taxes and other budget changes that affect local communities. If the governor’s budget is approved, Brewer would lose approximately $1.28 million in revenue.

Gardner said she has spoken to city leaders about the increased funding request.

“It’s not what they would like to see, but they understand,” Gardner said.

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