May 25, 2018
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Calais school committee sends layoff notices, trims spending

By Tim Cox, BDN Staff

CALAIS, Maine — The school committee voted Thursday to send layoff notices to teachers, although only a small handful of those who will receive the notice are in danger of losing their jobs. The committee also took initial steps to trim spending.

The layoff notices will inform teachers that their contacts could be terminated in 90 days, but only a few teaching positions are in jeopardy.

“If we don’t need to abolish these positions, nothing happens,” said interim superintendent Raymond Freve to the school committee during Thursday night’s special session. The meeting came after voters rejected the second referendum on the proposed school budget earlier this week.

The vote to approve sending the layoff notices was 4-1. Committee members James MacDonald, Kathleen Caso, Lea Farrar and Robert Greenlaw voted in favor of sending the layoff notices. John Hill voted against the measure.

Freve urged the panel to begin acting on his recommendations to trim spending.

“It will stop the bleeding,” he said.

The panel took no action on proposals by Freve to impose furlough days or eliminate a handful of teaching positions, although it may wrestle with them at its next regular meeting on Tuesday evening, at which time he also is expected to recommend additional budget cuts. City Council will hold a special meeting the same evening to adopt a new proposed school budget and schedule a third referendum.

The committee voted to cut a few positions that have been unfilled — a middle school teacher position and a head custodian job. It also voted to eliminate a truck driving education program for which only five students had registered.

The panel reviewed a list of spending cuts previously recommended by acting Freve. They voted to approve 11 measures that will save a combined $81,091, including funding for membership in the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, advisors for the four high school classes and basketball for boys and girls in grades seven and eight.

The panel also agreed to keep the the high school yearbook program and the drama program.

City officials are exploring the feasibility of the municipal parks and recreation department taking on responsibility for the basketball programs. The department provides programs for other sports for grades seven and eight.

Some committee votes were divided. The vote to end the truck driving program and the vote to cut all the class advisors, for example, were 3-2.

Freve’s other recommendations included eliminating an assistant principal position and teachers for music and art.

His recommendations to date total a $432,439 decrease in the budget, but he has indicated he is going to propose additional cuts to give the School Committee options.

The meeting drew about 50 people, including some teachers, administrators and members of the City Council.

Calais residents voted 171-118 on Aug. 27 to reject the city’s proposed $8.3 million school budget, which was about $50,000 more than the proposed school budget they turned down by a 238-55 vote in a July referendum. The proposed school budget includes $1.4 million in local funds, about $251,000 more compared to the previous school year.

The budget requested by the school committee was for $8.8 million, so the difference between its request and the most recent budget approved by the City Council was about $420,000.

The City Council has approved interim funding on a monthly basis based on the most recent proposed school budget that voters rejected.

Correction: An earlier version of the story reported that Calais residents voted 171-18 on Aug. 27 to reject the city's proposed $8.3 million school budget. It was 171-118.

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