Calais superintendent still working on budget cuts

Posted Oct. 21, 2013, at 6:11 p.m.

CALAIS, Maine — Superintendent Keith Laser is still faced with recommending additional budget cuts after the School Committee endorsed three recommendations to eliminate a part-time teaching position and two other personnel-related actions in order to reduce spending.

Laser had proposed a menu of 10 budget cuts that would save a combined $277,000, although the School Committee has a budget gap of only $135,000. His recommendations included eliminating a small handful of positions and cutting some back to part-time.

When it met to consider his recommendations Oct. 15, the School Committee approved three measures. The panel voted unanimously to cut a part-time art teacher position at the elementary school, a savings of $35,000, and reduce the high school librarian from a full-time teacher to an ed-tech position, saving $11,000. It also voted unanimously to cut a Title I teaching position at the elementary school and move two ed-tech positions from the general budget to the Title I program, saving about $51,000.

Although some other proposals to eliminate positions were unanimously rejected, a few were defeated in split votes. The committee voted 3-2 to reject a recommendation to trim a high school business education teacher to half-time, 4-1 against reducing a high school art teacher to part-time and 3-2 to set aside a proposal to cut a custodial position.

The committee directed Laser to propose other ways to trim spending by the remaining $38,000. It will consider those recommendations, if needed, on Nov. 6 — the day after city voters decide whether to approve the proposed $8,612,734 school budget.

Before voting, the School Committee fielded questions from an audience of about 50 people, including teachers and other school personnel, about the budget-cutting process.

Part of the discussion touched on the panel’s decision earlier in the month to reduce stipends for advisors and coaches for winter and spring extracurricular activities.

“If we didn’t pay anyone to do them, the kids would suffer,” said committee member John Hill.

“I don’t want to see anyone lose a job,” he added.

Eliminating the extracurricular activities, ranging from student council to basketball, would have affected as many as 400 students “and the entire community,” said committee member Kathleen Caso. Many students participate in multiple activities, she noted.

The panel also heard from Susan Clark, a nurse at Calais Elementary School, who spoke against a proposal that would have reduced her job to a half-time position.

Ten children attending the elementary school potentially could be placed in life-threatening circumstances because they can suffer severe allergic reactions that require medication to be administered quickly, said Clark.

“I don’t think it’s a safe environment,” Clark told the gathering, for these children to have to rely on a secretary or teacher for medical care in the event of an emergency. “It’s unsafe.”

The School Committee voted unanimously to reject Laser’s proposal to reduce the nursing position to half-time.

Laser noted that the budget gap had been as high as $625,000 before the School Committee began making cuts and before the City Council trimmed capital spending in the municipal budget and took other actions to give the school system more funds.

“We’ve seen this number fluctuate over the last month and a half,” he said. It took “a lot of work and sacrifice” to reduce the budget gap, added Laser.

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