Calais school budget cuts include furlough days for teachers

Posted Oct. 11, 2013, at 1:05 p.m.

CALAIS, Maine — As expected, the City Council finalized cuts in the current budget in order to free up more funds for the school system. The council also approved the proposed school budget to be placed on the Nov. 5 ballot.

Meeting separately on the same Thursday evening, the School Committee also took action related to the 2013-14 school budget. The panel unanimously agreed to an offer from the Calais Education Association, the union representing educators, for three furlough days in the current school year.

The first furlough day will be Oct. 15. The two others will be Nov. 5, Election Day, and the final day of school in the spring.

The school committee also endorsed the union’s offer for a 25 percent reduction in stipends for most advisors and coaches for winter and spring extracurricular activities, which mainly impacts coaches for team sports.

The three furlough days will save the school district about $63,000, according to Superintendent Keith Laser, and the pay cut for coaches, about $16,000.

Based on City Council’s action earlier in the evening and its adoption of a proposed school budget of $8,612,734, the School Committee still has a gap of about $126,000 it must reckon with, according to Laser. The committee will consider Laser’s proposals to trim spending in order to close that gap — which include eliminating a handful of full-time and part-time positions — when it holds a regular meeting Oct. 15.

The School Committee also agreed to a contract change sought by the union that will impact teachers who are eligible for retirement. The change will allow teachers who are eligible to retire to reapply for their positions and be guaranteed employment for a maximum of five years at 75 percent of their previous salary.

“We certainly appreciate the sacrifices of everybody,” Laser said by phone Friday, regarding the committee’s action. “It’s not just the teachers. It’s everybody.” He also thanked city officials for the spending cuts and other actions they have taken in recent months to free up more money for schools.

The City Council voted unanimously Thursday to approve a package spending reductions recommended by City Manager Diane Barnes earlier this month, and it voted unanimously on the proposed school budget, which will be the third spending plan being put before voters.

The latest round of capital budget cuts — the two largest items were $40,000 for resurfacing tennis courts and $30,000 for playground equipment — totaled $156,300. The council also agreed to tap $9,000 from the city’s unassigned fund for an additional $165,300 for schools. Earlier cuts in capital spending bring the total to $182,900.

The proposed school budget includes $573,900 in local funds and is about $300,000 more than the proposed school budget that voters rejected in an August referendum.

The City Council increased the mill rate earlier this year with about 85 percent of the additional revenue going for schools.

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