Brewer school leaders name teachers on chopping block

Posted May 06, 2013, at 11:08 p.m.

BREWER, Maine — The “worst case scenario” for next year’s Brewer school budget means that all current first-year teachers and eight others, who were officially listed at Monday’s school board meeting, may lose their jobs or have their positions reduced, Superintendent Daniel Lee said.

“There are 14 teaching positions that are being eliminated for this budget,” the superintendent said, just before he listed the six continuing teachers by name who may lose their jobs and two others whose positions have been reduced to half-time.

The first reading of the $20.3 million preliminary budget for fiscal year 2013-14, with an increase of $315,489 or 1.6 percent, was held Monday. It’s only slightly different from the revenue budget presented in April, which was when school leaders announced that they would be asking residents to pay approximately $7.4 million — an additional $1.2 million or 20.5 percent more compared to this year — for education.

Lee was obviously nervous when he started, and said, “This is the first time I’ve ever done this” just before he read the names and job titles of those on the chopping block.

Rebecca Shultz, occupational therapy; Karen Saucier, elementary school teacher; Dennis McGrath, elementary school teacher; Heather McLeod, elementary music and high school choir teacher; Shawn Dyer, high school physical education teacher; and Emily Sevigny, high school guidance counselor, were listed, and Fred Ravan, high school Spanish teacher, and Lauri Spruce, high school art teacher, were told their jobs could be cut in half.

“We will do everything in our power to see these cuts are not made,” Chairwoman Janet McIntosh said directly after Lee was finished.

Even with the cuts and proposed job eliminations, there is still close to half a million to cut, school department business manager Gretchen Gardner said.

In an effort to cut costs, “We’ve instituted a wage freeze on all nonunion employees,” Lee said. “An across-the-board freeze would save some positions.”

The current teacher contract expires in August and Lee made a suggestion that the current contract be changed.

“Forty-four percent of our teachers are due to receive a 4.3 percent increase based on the steps of their contract,” Lee said. “It is very hard to tax a person on a fixed income … when we’re giving a 4.3 percent increase based on a contract.”

Lucy Girodet, chief negotiator for the Brewer Education Association and an English teacher at Brewer High School, took exception to Lee’s comments.

“This is very misleading,” she said at the public comments portion of the meeting. “These aren’t raises, these are step increases.”

She said the BEA is working with the school department but does not want to make any final decisions before the Legislature is done with the budget.

Gov. Paul 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.

“We’re watching and waiting,” Girodet said. “We’re not making any moves until the Legislature is done.”

The second reading of the budget will take place at a special meeting that has not yet been scheduled, sometime before the May 20 annual joint meeting with the City Council, where the final version of the school budget is presented for approval. After that, residents also must approve the budget by referendum in order for it to be made final.

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