MADAWASKA, Maine — When the Madawaska taxpayers turned down the proposed 2014-2015 school budget at referendum last month, it was a message to school officials — come back with a budget with no increase in the local share over last year.
On Wednesday the Madawaska School Committee did them one better when they approved a revised budget that cuts the local tax contribution by more than $7,000.
“The voters I talked to wanted a tax [contribution] increase of zero,” Ginette Albert, Madawaska superintendent of schools, said Wednesday. “We actually reduced the local tax effort by $7,300.”
This marked the second year in a row the Madawaska School Department headed into its new fiscal year, which began Tuesday, without an approved budget. It failed to pass at the June 24 validation referendum by a 238-191 vote.
The newly approved proposed $6,556,230 FY 2014-2015 budget includes a total local tax effort of $2,823,308, Albert said.
The proposed budget voted down last month included a $43,000 increase to the local tax effort over the previous year.
“In town I spoke with people and they told me they wanted us to cut the budget,” Albert told the school committee during Wednesday’s meeting.
Albert said she was able to come up with the budget reductions thanks in part to up-to-date revenue figures.
“When I put together the budget for the May 1 deadline, I was not sure of our final revenue figures,” she said. “I now have a much better idea.”
An additional $16,000 in revenues from the student lunch program were factored in along with an additional $38,000 that will be brought forward from last year’s budget.
For some at Wednesday’s meeting, the new budget did not go far enough and they called for tougher decisions and more cuts.
“How many administrators do you have spread across the [school] department?” asked
Adam Levy, member of the Madawaska Budget Committee and employee of Twin Rivers Paper Co. “We run a pretty big [paper] mill with more employees and way less secretaries.”
Albert said every secretary and administrator within the school department is necessary.
“I am sick and tired of [people comparing] the mill to the School Department,” Albert said. “You deal with making paper and we are dealing with educating kids.”
Levy also asked if the committee has looked at closing either the Madawaska Elementary School or high school and housing all students in one building.
“At a mill you can close down a machine right away,” school committee member Beverly Madore said to Levy. “You are coming from an industrial mentality [and] we are working with kids, not machines.”
With declining enrollments, Albert said shuttering a school building is a discussion worth having, as is the notion of reaching out to surrounding school districts to form a regional high school.
“I dont care if that [high school] building is in Frenchville, Madawaska or Van Buren,” she said. “As long as it is good for the students.”
But before anything can happen, she added, the town must pass a school budget for the fiscal year.
The earliest the revised budget can go to a special town meeting is July 15, Albert said, with a referendum vote on July 29.