The Millinocket School Board recently presented a recommended budget for next year to the town council in the amount of $6,632,379, which is less than last year. In the proposed budget, the board was forced to eliminate several positions, including three educational technicians, two custodial cleaners, one half-time music teacher, all summer cleaning staff and many maintenance projects. The school board worked diligently to make cuts that would have the least negative effect to our student’s education.
The school board recognizes the economic difficulties the town of Millinocket has faced and continues to face, and it has conscientiously worked toward making reductions to the budget to reduce the financial strain. Since the 2007-2008 school year, the school budget has decreased by more than a million dollars. Teaching positions and programs have been eliminated. In addition, the staff has stepped up to take on more duties and responsibilities to make sure our students receive a quality education.
At the June 27 meeting of the town council, members voted to cut an additional $322,280 from the school budget. The town council has repeatedly indicated they would like cuts from the retirees’ reimbursement for medical insurance portion of the budget. This benefit is a permissive subject of bargaining and can only be addressed through collective bargaining and then only if both parties agree. It cannot be imposed unilaterally by the school board. The school board is working with its law firm to sort out the complicated contracted retiree health insurance issues, and we feel certain that we will be able to make some changes, but we will work with people through legitimate means and not set up a lengthy, costly legal battle.
What will happen if the town council’s proposed budget is approved by the voters?
Unfortunately, to cut such a large amount from the budget, more than $320,000, after the school board has already reduced the original proposed budget by more than $650,000, will have a significant effect on our students. After several meetings with administrators discussing various options, it became obvious that the size of the cuts would require the elimination of several teaching positions and entire programs. If the proposed budget is approved by the voters, the following reductions or similar will occur:
• Five additional teachers
• Three entire programs
• Delayed maintenance projects
Given the cuts made to the school budget over the past several years, Millinocket cannot afford to make additional cuts without doing serious harm to the education of our students.
To address some of the misinformation circulating, there aren’t any administrative raises being given this year. After last year’s budget was set, the school board negotiated some pay raises which, on average, amounted to 2 percent. Some of the staff had not received a raise in three years. The new budget shows an increase in the salary line due to the fact the raises were given last year after the passage of the budget. The international program subsidized all raises, so it did not cost the Millinocket taxpayer one cent.
How do we proceed? The school board requests the residents of Millinocket to vote down the proposed town council budget. Unfortunately, the decision by our town leaders to blame others for their decisions is not helpful. But destroying a school system is just poor judgment.
Residents should vote down the proposed town council budget and save teaching positions and programs our students need. It’s what is best for the students and the future of the town of Millinocket.
Kenneth Smith is superintendent of the Millinocket School Department.