BREWER, Maine — Two school board members and a resident who told city councilors that a fifth-grade teacher changed the course of his daughter’s life each made impassioned pleas Tuesday for the council to approve the school budget.
Each spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting and Mayor Kevin O’Connell answered their requests by saying the city is not moving forward until the state budget is passed.
“That is the way city and school budgets have been adopted for well over 100 years in the city of Brewer,” the mayor said.
The school board on Monday approved its $20.3 million preliminary school budget, which is an increase of $315,489 or 1.6 percent over this year, but still needs City Council and residential approval before it is made final.
School leaders are asking for approximately $7.4 million from residents to pay for education — an increase of $1.2 million, or 20.5 percent, compared with this year.
Until the state budget is passed, city leaders will not know how much money they have to spend, O’Connell said.
“This year the governor built major cuts to cities and towns into his budget that, if allowed to stand, will dramatically impact Brewer taxpayers and residents,” the mayor said. “As of tonight, June 4, there is still no path forward in sight, no resolution. We do not know what Augusta will finally do. So rather than pass a budget [based] on speculation, we believe it is important to make final decisions on the budget and the tax rate after we have all the information, not before.”
School board chairwoman Janet McIntosh, school board member Kevin Forrest and resident John Canders made pleas for council action regarding the school budget.
“A number of our teachers have already been notified that they may be losing their jobs,” Canders said.
One teacher on the list of those given pink slips in May was Dennis McGrath, his daughter’s fifth-grade teacher last year. The budget approved by the school board on Monday eliminates only one teaching position.
“Mr. McGrath quite simply changed the course of my daughter’s life,” Canders. “He made her a better person.”
He also said, “It would be an incredible loss to our community if these people went [elsewhere] because of the uncertainties.”
McIntosh reminded councilors that over the last decade the school department has reduced funding, when possible, and Forrest said he also is worried about the uncertainties regarding teachers.
“Perhaps at the end of this process the council will support a budget which keeps the school’s request intact, perhaps changes will be made,” O’Connell said. “I cannot speak for other councilors, only myself, but I do know that the five members of this council will make their decision based upon what is right for the entire community.”
“I care about our teachers, our principals and our students,” the mayor also said. “I also care about our police officers, plow drivers, library and rec staff.”
He ended by saying he answers to the taxpayers and residents of Brewer.
During the meeting, the council also:
• Recognized three people for their years of service to the city — Superintendent Daniel Lee, who is retiring this month; 14-year veteran school employee Carol Rohn; and Lou Colburn, chief operator of the Brewer Water Pollution Control Facility, who has been a city employee for a 35 years.
• Honored Watie J. Akins, a Penobscot elder who recently was awarded a Good Idea Grant from the Maine Arts Commission for his music and honored by the Legislature.
• Congratulated University of Maine third baseman Eric White for his accomplishments on the field this season and Maine native Steve Clifford, whose parents, Gerald and Teresa Clifford, live in Brewer, for being hired as an NBA coach for the Charlotte Bobcats.