MADAWASKA, Maine — In an exact replay of earlier this summer, voters in Madawaska have rejected the proposed school budget at referendum, despite having approved it at town meeting just two weeks earlier.
This was the second go-around for the $6.5 million 2014-15 school budget, which passed at the regular June town meeting but was rejected in a referendum on June 24.
On Tuesday, July 29, a revised budget went down by a vote of 234 to 206.
“I don’t know where the townspeople want me to go,” Ginette Albert, Madawaska superintendent of schools, said Friday morning. “I understand they want the budget brought down [and] we actually gave money back so at this point I am at a loss.”
In presenting a new budget proposal to her school committee July 3, Albert said it represented a 0 percent tax increase and actually cut the local tax contribution by $7,000 over the previous year.
“At the [July 15] town meeting, we were asked if the budget would increase property taxes,” Albert said. “The school department more than flat-lined the budget, so I can’t understand why (the budget was still defeated).”
But members of Madawaska’s municipal budget committee believe the problem isn’t so much over what has been cut from the budget as it is the manner in which those cuts were made.
Members of the municipal budget committee were not consulted during the school budget process, and they believe they should have been.
“We would like to see the school committee and school department [administrators] sit down with the budget committee and try to craft a budget that reflects comments from the community,” Paul Cyr, Madawaska Budget Committee chairman, said Friday. “I am a little disappointed that has not happened, [because] we have a lot of expertise that would be useful to craft a budget.”
As far as cutting the budget by $7,000, Cyr maintains it was done at a cost to student programs and any cuts should actually come from reductions to teaching and administrative salaries.
“So far, the school committee has not made a reasonable effort to do that,” he said. “I think that is what the voters are expecting, [and] for the voters to reject it twice is significant.”
Cuts to salaries would require an immediate re-opening of contracts for negotiation, and Albert has remained adamant that will not happen.
“They want me to cut benefits and salaries,” Albert said. “I will not re-open the contract now.”
As it stands, contracts expire next June; those involved have given Albert notice the talks will begin this fall.
In the meantime, she is left trying to come up with a budget that will pass through both town meeting and referendum — something neither she nor Cyr is optimistic will happen anytime soon.
“I don’t anticipate a new budget proposal until September,” Albert said. “We probably will not have a new budget until school is in session.”
Cyr does not like the chances for any new budgets unless there are substantial changes.
“I am hopeful but not optimistic,” he said.