Madawaska school budget goes to voters without municipal committee support

Posted July 14, 2014, at 5:38 p.m.

MADAWASKA, Maine — The Madawaska School Committee unveils its second proposed fiscal year 2014-15 budget during a special town meeting Tuesday night without the endorsement of the municipal budget committee.

Voters will address the proposed $6.5 million budget at 7 p.m. at the Madawaska High School.

Voters approved an earlier version of the budget at the June town meeting but subsequently voted it down at the June 24 referendum, forcing the superintendent and school committee to revise their numbers.

On July 3, Ginette Albert, superintendent, presented a new budget proposal she said represents a zero-percent tax increase and actually cuts the local tax contribution by $7,000 over the previous year.

Those cuts, according to Paul Cyr, chairman of the Madawaska Budget Committee, came at the expense of students and educational programming.

“The students have been sacrificing programs and services,” Cyr said. “But we have seen no reduction or sharing of that burden by the school administration or teachers.”

Stressing his committee is not trying to tell the school department what to cut, Cyr said there needs to be discussions on reducing expenses in other areas not affecting students.

The school committee, Cyr said, should immediately re-open teaching staff contracts and begin renegotiating those contracts to reflect cost reductions and savings.

The school department also must consider consolidating students into one school building and aggressively address any duplication of expenses.

For her part, Albert said those are exactly the kinds of things she and her committee have been doing.

“Am I surprised the budget committee is not recommending our budget? No,” Albert said. “Am I disappointed? Yes.”

Albert said it appears to her that the budget committee is attempting to micromanage the school committee.

“I stand by the budget I presented,” she said.

The budget committee, the school committee and the teachers association have all published “open letters” to the residents of Madawaska over the past week defending their school budget opinions and recommendations.

In its letter, the budget committee cites what it claims are salary comparisons showing teachers in Madawaska are paid at the same levels as those in some of Maine’s wealthier communities, such as Cape Elizabeth.

Albert claims the numbers Cyr used to make those comparisons are “inaccurate and skewed” and the teachers association said such comparisons are “unfair” and promote an “us against them” environment.

This marks the second year in a row the Madawaska School Department headed into its new fiscal year, which began July 1, without an approved budget.

The newly approved proposed $6,556,230 fiscal year 2014-15 budget includes a total local tax contribution of $2,823,308, Albert said.

The proposed budget voted down last month included a $43,000 increase to the local tax contribution over the previous year.

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