Medway school officials seek ‘corrective action’ after residents cut administrators’ salary account

Posted June 12, 2014, at 8:30 p.m.

MEDWAY, Maine — School board members will ask selectmen to “take corrective action” on Monday on a $196,979 cut to the town’s education budget that, if enacted, would force the board to break contracts and state law, officials said Thursday.

The 22-17 vote by residents at Wednesday night’s annual town meeting approved reducing from $197,979 to $1,000 the schools’ administrative account. The cut effectively would eliminate the salaries of Superintendent Quenten Clark and his administrative staff effective July 1, the start of the 2014-15 fiscal year, officials said.

“It creates a set of problems that needs to be addressed in fairness to students,” said Bill Stockmeyer of Portland, a town attorney.

Stockmeyer discussed the vote via telephone in an executive session with the Medway School Committee for about 45 minutes on Thursday afternoon after board members issued pre-termination notices to a dozen teachers at Medway Middle School in response to the cut.

The teachers were given the notices because the cut would violate state laws requiring superintendents at school systems and Medway schools’ contracts to share administrative services with East Millinocket and Woodville. Under state law, superintendents have a host of obligations, including attending school board meetings, Stockmeyer and Clark said.

The town meeting moderator, John Farrington, made a motion recommending the cut Wednesday after turning moderator duties over to a deputy, he said.

A former principal of Schenck High School in East Millinocket, Farrington sought the elimination of a bookkeeper-grant writer position that he felt would absorb too much of the schools’ $700,000 fund balance. Farrington said he felt he had to make the cut deep enough to leave school officials no choice but to redraw several budget line items. He also felt the fund balance was simply too high, he said.

“You’re acting as a bank for the taxpayers and the taxpayers can take care of their own banking,” he said.

Clark, who attended Wednesday’s meeting, said he felt the cut was more personal than that.

“He cut me out of the budget. It speaks for itself,” Clark said. “There isn’t enough money in the budget for me and my staff, like $5 a year. I don’t buy that this is not against me and my staff at all.”

Clark took the meaning of the vote to be, “‘It isn’t that I don’t like you, but I am going to cut off all your income,’” he said.

“The cut wasn’t directed against anybody,” Farrington said.

Farrington also said giving the teachers the notices is unnecessary.

Clark said he doubted that a dozen teachers would be laid off, but two or three might. The teachers’ salary account line, he said, is about $1.7 million of the system’s $3.03 million budget. No cuts or transfers anywhere else could make up the difference, he said.

The town is contractually obligated to give its teachers 90-day notice of pending layoffs, Clark said. School board members did not want to simply designate two or three teachers — likely the youngest on staff — for layoff during the board’s regular meeting immediately after the town meeting, Clark said.

The budget and the board’s administrative rules don’t allow it to make enough budget transfers from other accounts to cover the $196,979, he said.

Farrington agreed.

“It would require another town meeting,” he said.

Clark and Farrington tangled over the $700,000 fund balance. Clark said the school system doesn’t have a $700,000 balance. Farrington said that according to the town’s 11-month-old audit, it does. Clark placed the fund balance at about $350,000, with the rest going to the budget to reduce taxation.

The stir created by Wednesday night’s meeting was enough to draw East Millinocket School Committee Chairman Dan Byron and members Angel Danforth and Jennifer Murray to the Wednesday afternoon meeting. They were wondering, they said, whether they would have to find $196,979 to offset Medway’s cut.

It was unclear whether the school board’s meeting with selectmen on Monday would lead to another town meeting or some other corrective action. Byron said he believed Medway officials would find the right fix.

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