MADAWASKA, Maine — For the second year in a row, the Madawaska School Department is heading into its new fiscal year without an approved budget. It failed to pass at the June 24 validation referendum by a 238-191 vote.
Residents did approve the school budget at the annual town meeting on June 10.
“We are going to have to go back to the drawing board with the school committee,” Ginette Albert, the Madawaska school superintendent, said Wednesday afternoon. “We did tighten our belts, [and] I am a little surprised.”
The proposed $6.5 million 2014-15 budget represents a $90,500 increase from last year, but, according to Albert, about $82,000 of that represents the purchase of a new school bus for the Grand Isle School Department, which tuitions its students to Madawaska and will reimburse the department for that purchase.
“So really, we are talking about an $8,000 increase over last year,” Albert said.
The proposed budget represents a $154,000 decrease in state funding requiring a commitment of $43,000 over last year.
The Madawaska School Department finds itself in the same position it was last year at this time, when voters failed to approve the 2013-14 budget and mandated the school committee cut that proposed budget by $525,000.
After months of meetings and negotiations, the town finally approved its current year budget, which included $513,000 in cuts, in January.
The school committee met those reductions by eliminating teaching and staff positions, cutting administrative salaries, mandating furlough days, reducing staff hours and cutting some extracurricular activities.
As of the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, the school department will operate under the budget approved at the June 10 meeting until a new budget is passed at a special town meeting and validation referendum.
“The validation of their budget failed, so they do have to present another budget,” Maine Education Commissioner James Rier Jr. said Wednesday. “But they are allowed to operate after July 1 on the budget approved [at town meeting], so they can make payrolls and run the schools.”
Under state law, Albert and her school committee have 45 days to present a new budget, Rier said.
“The more time that passes after July 1, the more urgent it becomes,” he said.
On Wednesday, Albert said she understood the need to have a budget in hand sooner rather than later, but she added she would not rush the process.
“I am not going to react and act on a dime,” she said. “I am going to do what is best for the kids [and] not cut for the sake of cutting.”
On the municipal side, voters at the June 10 meeting approved the Madawaska 2014-15 town budget of $4.5 million, but Town Manager Christina Therrien said Wednesday that she is unable to send out the annual property tax bills until the school budget is approved.