MADAWASKA, Maine — It’s been a tumultuous year with voters demanding budget cuts to avoid tax increases and school officials butting heads with the teachers’ union over how to make those cuts.
In the last round of budget reductions approved in January, more than 20 percent of the teaching staff — 12 positions in all — were eliminated.
Then the superintendent resigned earlier this month before completing the budget for the current fiscal year which started on July 1. The school committee blamed the teachers’ union for her abrupt exit before two board members also resigned last week.
Despite that turmoil, the remaining school board members on Monday appointed an interim superintendent with more than 25 years of experience as a teacher and administrator in Madawaska, who seems to be bridging the gap between both sides.
Just four days after being appointed, interim Superintendent Ginette Albert presented a budget plan for this school year that both the school board and Madawaska Education Association are on board with.
The proposed 2013-2014 $6,506,790 budget represents a near 3 percent reduction over last year’s budget.
“The state gave us more money this year due to the town’s valuation going down thanks to the tax abatements granted to Twin Rivers,” Albert told the school committee during its budget meeting Thursday afternoon. “Due to the reduction in our valuation, it raises the state’s contribution.”
Madawaska will receive an additional $156,000 from the state for education this year, Albert said.
In all, residents will be asked to approve a local tax effort of $2,777,841, down nearly $250,000 from last year.
On Thursday, Albert acknowledged former Superintendent Terry Wood’s work on the current budget as she presented it to the school committee.
“I don’t know where else you would want me to cut in this budget, if you even want me to cut at all,” Albert said Thursday. “Mrs. Wood worked well on this budget and all I could find were a few lines where amounts were included more than once.”
By correcting those mathematical errors and carrying forward $237,901 of last year’s surplus — all but 57 cents of the total in order to keep the account open — Albert told the committee the proposed budget meets the voters’ wishes to not raise local taxes.
“We did our job and did not raise taxes,” Roger Thibodeau, school committee chair, said. “Now all we can do is take this to the voters.”
Before the proposed budget can be acted on by residents, it must first be approved by the municipal budget committee. A tentative date of Sept. 4 was set for a meeting between the school and budget committees.
“I am very confident with this budget,” Albert said. “I recommend once this budget does pass, we start the process right away for the following year’s budget.”
Members of the Madawaska Education Association at Thursday’s meeting gave high marks to Albert.
“She did great by giving us clear numbers to look at,” Bonnie Tingley, co-president of the teachers’ group said. “Everything was transparent and out in the open.”
Her co-president agreed.
“This is a very good sign of things to come,” Jenny Bechard said. “We are seeing open communication and a real spirit of collaboration.”