Brewer school committee approves budget that cuts 1 teacher

Posted June 03, 2013, at 10:19 p.m.

BREWER, Maine — After talking for months about a worst-case scenario budget that laid off up to 34 people, including 14 teachers who were named to get pink slips, the school board on Monday approved a fiscal year 2013-14 budget that eliminates just one teaching position.

A sixth-grade teacher is retiring and will not be replaced, Superintendent Daniel Lee announced at Monday’s meeting while listing the two dozen cost-reducing steps planned.

While teachers are fairly safe, jobs will be affected, he said.

The occupational therapist has been eliminated, as has a central office secretary, half-time high school music teacher, library ed tech and ALPHA program ed tech. Modern language will be reduced to a half-time position and the macro-micro economics teaching position will not be filled.

Another big savings budgeted — $106,716 — is from the elimination of a 1.5 percent pay increase for teachers that is part of their contract, and another $19,262 in savings is planned with the elimination of the 1.5 percent pay increase for the support staff. The draft also eliminates continuing education for teachers, which saves $58,000.

The school board approved the $20.3 million preliminary school budget, which is an increase of $315,489 or 1.6 percent over this year, but it is far from final. School leaders are asking for approximately $7.4 million from residents — an additional $1.2 million or 20.5 percent more compared to this year — to pay for education.

Lee presented the same budget to the City Council two weeks ago, but the municipal panel took no action and doesn’t expect to until next month, City Manager Steve Bost said Monday morning. City leaders are waiting to see what happens in Augusta before moving forward with the budget.

The City Council meets Tuesday, but they will not vote on the school budget.

“They will vote instead on a continuing resolution, which will allow the city to continue funding at the current level until the budget in Augusta is resolved,” Bost said. “It’s prudent to wait until all the numbers are available from the state.”

School board chairwoman Janet McIntosh said she understands why city leaders want to wait, but urged council members to approve the school budget presented.

“The whole state is waiting and seeing. I understand that. For us, just waiting and seeing is not OK,” she said.

McIntosh added later that, “If the city council wants to wait and see, that leaves us perplexed. Does that mean you won’t support the 1.6 percent? We really need to have a vote.”

McIntosh listed off several school departments in the state, including Biddeford, Portland, Presque Isle and Bangor, that are all finalizing their budgets and holding budget referendums over the next couple weeks.

“This is not the budget that any one of us on the school committee want,” she said. “We do feel, by consensus, it is the best we can do at this time.”

The budget presented on Monday reduces the number of positions eliminated, but since the city council and residents have not made it final, the 34 jobs placed on the chopping block are still in flux.

“They still are [in jeopardy],” Gretchen Gardner, the school department’s business manager, said after the meeting. “If we don’t get this budget passed, we are going to have to notify them. We’re hoping we don’t have to.”

Once the school board approves the draft budget, it is sent to the city council for approval. When city leaders approve the school budget amount, a referendum must be held within 10 days. The public referendum — a requirement under the 2007 school consolidation law — is a thumbs up or thumbs down vote and every three years residents vote on whether to continue the budget referendum process.

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