MADAWASKA, Maine — School officials in Madawaska are hoping the third time’s the charm when they present a new version of the 2014-15 school budget at town meeting Tuesday night.

“We absolutely hope this is the one,” Ginette Albert, Madawaska superintendent of schools, said Wednesday morning. “But you never know.”

The chairman of the municipal budget committee, however, vowed Wednesday to fight the proposal yet again.

Since June, residents have twice approved Albert’s proposed budget at town meeting, only to subsequently vote them down a week later during the validation referendum.

Albert said Wednesday she is hopeful an additional $48,000 reduction in the total local tax burden will be the key to getting her budget passed.

“That brings the total reduction to the local tax effort for this budget [down] $55,373 from last year,” she said.

As proposed, the overall $6.5 million 2014-15 school budget calls for a total local commitment of $2.7 million.

Albert said she was able to make the new cuts using unexpended surplus from last year’s operating budget. In all, Albert said $336,000 was brought forward from last year’s budget.

The Madawaska Budget Committee, which recommended residents vote against the two previous failed budgets, has not taken any official action on the most recent proposal.

That does not mean committee members are pleased with the new plan. The budget committee chairman indicated Wednesday he would speak against it at next week’s town meeting.

“The [Madawaska School Committee] passed this budget and never contacted us or gave us the opportunity to review it,” Paul Cyr, chairman of the nine-member Madawaska Budget Committee, said. “I was able to talk to the [budget] committee members, and six of them said they would not have recommended it.”

For months, Cyr has maintained the issue is not about the amount Albert has cut from the budget but how she has arrived at those cuts.

“All they did this time was rob money out of unexpended funds and are hoping to convince the voters that means less local taxes,” Cyr said. “But they still have not addressed the issues vital to making a budget that is sustainable.”

Chief among those issues, he said, are increasing costs associated with administrative and teaching salaries and health care expenses.

“These have been done with no adjustment to the cost share, and there are no plans we have seen for that,” Cyr said. “The budget committee would like to see some action.”

Albert said she is well aware the budget committee has advocated she reopen the existing teacher contract early to renegotiate salaries to secure savings in the budget.

“The whole issue is not our bottom line but the fact that certain people want me to reopen the contract,” Albert said. “As I have explained time and time again, that was done two years ago. The teachers took pay cuts, and I will not reopen it again.”

That contract does expire in 2015, Albert said, and negotiations are scheduled to begin later this fall.

Cyr predicts the budget will pass at the town meeting, when more teachers and fewer other residents typically show up, and expects it will be defeated again at referendum, when more residents tend to vote.

“If [school officials] had started to address some of the key issues we would probably recommend [the budget],” he said. “But we are not going to recommend again, and we hope the school committee will see it is time to step up and not just go through the motions [and] come up with something that is sustaining and concrete without hurting education.”

In the meantime, Albert and Madawaska Town Manager Christina Therrien worked together to form the Madawaska Resource Committee — comprising business, school, government and private individuals — to look at ways the municipality can create budget savings townwide.

Albert and Cyr are hopeful the committee can find working solutions.

“I feel that is a positive move,” Albert said. “I think it is a good idea and that strategically they should be looking at everything.”

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

The town meeting on the latest budget proposal is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 2, at the Madawaska High School.

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.