Millinocket teachers agree to wage freeze, help school system save $300,000

Granite Street School teachers Jenny Daigle (left) and Missy Wheaton listen to Millinocket School Committee members discuss closing their school during a meeting at Stearns High School on Wednesday, May 28, 2014. Recent school budget cuts will retain all school staff.
Granite Street School teachers Jenny Daigle (left) and Missy Wheaton listen to Millinocket School Committee members discuss closing their school during a meeting at Stearns High School on Wednesday, May 28, 2014. Recent school budget cuts will retain all school staff. Buy Photo
Posted July 17, 2014, at 2:34 p.m.

MILLINOCKET, Maine — The local teachers union will accept a one-year wage freeze and the loss of several assistant coaches to help achieve an additional $300,000 school budget cut mandated by town leaders, Superintendent Frank Boynton said Thursday.

Two full-time and unfilled art and English as a Second Language teachers’ positions will all be cut to half-time to conform with an overall plan the town council initiated in late May to cut $600,000 from town and school budgets.

Councilors were responding to the loss of papermaking equipment owned by Great Northern Paper Co. LLC. Great Northern is the Katahdin region’s largest single taxpayer and the loss of valuation would have driven the town’s already-high property tax rate, $29.95 per thousand in valuation, beyond $30 per thousand had not school leaders matched town government’s $300,000 cut to its 2014-15 budget, officials have said.

Boynton, who started work as superintendent on July 1, praised the Millinocket Education Association, school staff and administrators for making sacrifices to protect their students from the towns’ need to keep taxes at least a present levels.

“I am extremely proud of the school staff for doing this,” Boynton said Thursday. “This was a plan that we worked on as a team. It was nothing that I or they came forward on. We had discussions on three pathways. The effort here was to retain jobs and we were going to work together to make this happen. it was a real team effort.”

“Every area of the budget has seen some level of reduction in an effort to balance the budget, while maintaining the integrity of instruction,” Boynton added in a statement released Thursday. “As always, the needs of the educational program for the students come first.”

The Millinocket School Committee voted 3-1 on July 8 to permit Boynton to cut $300,000 from the school budget. He expressed confidence that the school board would approve his plan, with some adjustments he plans to make. A formal vote hasn’t been set.

Efforts to contact school board Chairman Michael Jewers on Thursday were not immediately successful.

Prior to Boynton’s arrival, the board had already cut $237,000 out of the proposed budget for the new fiscal year, which began July 1, school officials have said. The latest cut should leave the school budget at about $5.6 million, about $300,000 below the 2013-14 budget.

The wage freeze, a one-year moratorium on teachers’ tuition reimbursements and the loss of varsity assistant coaches in football, field hockey, baseball, softball, field hockey, drama, math league, and boys’ and girls’ junior varsity basketball total about $95,000 in cuts. That’s about one third of the $300,000, Boynton said.

The wage increase was part of the union’s 2014-15 contract.

Town Manager Peggy Daigle praised school officials and personnel for the new “air of cooperation” they displayed in making the cuts, which she and the council were reluctant to mandate.

Daigle said she hoped that a positive response from voters in a school budget validation vote on July 22 would allow town leaders to finalize the school and town budgets by mid-August, about 1½ months overdue.

“Communications have been very positive and very open,” Daigle said Thursday. “It is good to know that instead of struggling with one another we can maybe put our heads together and work out a strategy that works for the people.”

“This is merely an appetizer to where we are going to be next year,” added Daigle.

The best news out of the cuts might be the saving of Granite Street School. School leaders had contemplated placing Granite Street’s staff and students with Stearns High School, which already hosts junior high school students, but teachers and parents had expressed reluctance at such a move.

The $300,000 budget cut includes a $12,000 reduction to the superintendent’s and superintendent’s office insurance line items. A yearbook photographer’s hiring agreement and a lease of a postage meter were also cut.

 

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