Madawaska residents pass school budget at town meeting, officials not confident for referendum

Posted July 16, 2014, at 2:44 p.m.

MADAWASKA, Maine — Madawaska residents at a special town meeting approved a revised proposed school budget Tuesday night over the objections of the municipal budget committee.

This was the second go around for the $6.5 million FY 2014-2015 school budget which passed at the regular June town meeting but was rejected in a referendum on June 24.

Now officials on both sides of the issue predict the same thing will happen again when it goes to the second referendum on July 29.

“I am concerned it will be a replay of the first referendum,” Ginette Albert, Madawaska School Department superintendent, said Wednesday. “There is a group of people in town trying to rile up people to vote it down.”

Among those opposing the school budget is Paul Cyr, chair of the Madawaska Budget Committee which refused to endorse both the current and the earlier version of the budget.

“This [town meeting] vote went pretty much like we expected with all the teachers showing up and they had the 60 votes to our 40,” Cyr said Wednesday. “So it passed and it will go to referendum [where] I don’t expect it to pass.”

The final vote Tuesday, according to Albert, was 86-41.

The referendum, Cyr said, unlike the more public town meeting, allows residents to vote in private where they are more likely to again vote down the budget.

In presenting a new budget proposal to her school committee on July 3, Albert said it represented a zero-percent tax increase and actually cuts the local tax contribution by $7,000 over the previous year.

That may or may not be the case, depending on how the numbers are interpreted, Cyr said, adding any savings came at the expense of student programming and education.

Cyr said the budget committee, while not telling the school committee how to form its budget, wants to see them open contract negotiations now with the teaching staff and administration to identify salary and benefits savings.

The current contracts expire in 2015.

“Why wait until then?” Cyr said.

According to Albert, the contract negotiation process has begun.

“There is a group of people who want this budget to fail,” Albert said. “But if the parents and residents come out to vote on the 29th, it will pass.”

If it does fail, both Albert and Cyr said the process could keep repeating itself.

“We will keep at it,” Albert said. “This does take time and effort when we could be moving ahead on other things.”

Cyr said he would like to see the budget, school and teachers’ association committees meet to discuss the budget.

“We offered them [the budget committee’s] help right off the bat to help craft a budget,” Cyr said. “Dialogue is really key and we need to meet face-to-face.”

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.

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