Calais school committee considers cutting positions, imposing furlough days

Posted Aug. 09, 2013, at 1:48 p.m.

CALAIS, Maine — The Calais School Committee has begun wrestling with tentative spending cuts following the City Council’s adoption of an $8.3 million budget for the school system.

Although voters must approve the school budget in a Aug. 27 referendum, interim superintendent Raymond Freve recommended an array of spending cuts when the committee met Thursday night. It convened about 90 minutes after the special City Council session and 4-3 vote to adopt the council’s proposed school budget. The School Committee discussed Freve’s recommendations but took no formal action.

Voters rejected an earlier school budget in a July referendum 238-55. The school budget adopted by the City Council Thursday night contains roughly an additional $50,000.

The School Committee had proposed a budget of $8.8 million, so the two budgets are off by about $500,000.

Freve outlined his proposed budget reductions during a meeting attended by about 20 teachers and parents. His recommendations include eliminating a handful of positions, imposing four furlough days, and dropping some extracurricular activities, including boys and girls basketball for grades seven and eight, yearbook, drama, vocal instruction and class advisors.

The positions he recommended for cuts include a middle school teacher, high school assistant principal, high school librarian and music and art teaching positions.

Freve’s proposals totaled more than $432,000, but he told the school committee he will bring them additional recommendations to cut spending in areas of transportation and facilities maintenance.

“The list is going to be expanded,” said Freve. He wants to give the committee “as many options as possible.”

“We can make a case for every one of these,” said committee member Robert Greenlaw, who was attending his first meeting as a member of the panel.

The possible elimination of the library position at the high school prompted some discussion.

“How do we run the library then?” asked committee member Kathleen Caso.

“The librarian,” answered Freve.

“Not if we cut it,” responded Caso.

If the position is eliminated, the library collection must be protected, suggested Freve.

Without referring to it specifically or by name, Caso suggested the city should cut funding for its public library in order to preserve the high school librarian position. She termed the public library, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, a “sacred cow” that receives about $130,000 in annual funding for personnel. Caso suggested reducing the public library staff. “Save $50,000 right there.”

Without referring to him by name, Caso also took issue with earlier published comments by Councilor Chris Bernardini, who said the council’s recommended school budget includes capital improvement budget items of $50,000 for maintenance and $40,000 for textbooks.

That $90,000 “is not in our budget,” said Caso. “That’s allocated to us as needed.” The School Committee must specifically request use of those monies, and the City Council must approve its request, she noted. “Therefore, it’s definitely not in our budget.”

The School Committee also appointed Caso and Greenlaw as members of a liaison committee that will include three members of the City Council.

Freve urged the panel to consider naming one member as a regular liaison who would attend all City Council meetings and participate in its deliberations but have no voting power, and he suggested the City Council should have a similar liaison to sit in on School Committee sessions.

“They’re not going to go for that,” said Caso, referring to the City Council.

Near the outset of the meeting, committee member John Hill, who was elected as co-chairman, urged people to vote against the budget placed on the referendum by the City Council. “Go down there and vote no,” he said.

“I don’t see the city giving us any more money,” said Greenlaw.

He has frozen all spending except what is essential to open schools for the start of the 2013-14 school year, Freve told the committee.

“Our goal in this process, this agonizing process,” said Caso of the proposed budget reductions, “is to [reduce their impact on] the children.”

The City Council voted in July to increase the mill rate by $2 per $1,000 property tax valuation in order to generate more revenue for its junior-senior high school and elementary school. The increase will generate about $300,000 in new revenue.

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