July 20, 2013

Jefferson voters tackle reduced school budget on Tuesday

By Paul Koenig pkoenig@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

JEFFERSON -- Teaching positions at Jefferson Village School probably will be eliminated if voters pass school budget cuts approved by residents at an open town meeting earlier this month.

The proposed $4,937,397 budget for kindergarten-through-grade 12 education is about $200,000 less than the one rejected by a secret ballot validation vote on June 4.

Residents will vote on the budget from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Jefferson Fire Station.

The proposed cuts, if passed, will lead to a combination of at least one full-time teacher being laid off, two full-time teacher positions going unfilled and a reduction in art, music and physical education classes, according to the school board chairman.

"That's devastating as far as trying to maintain the education level we have or were hoping to achieve," Chairman Robert Westrich said.

A combination of residents wanting a smaller budget and others wanting increased funding for another teacher position led to the original budget being rejected by secret ballot in June, Westrich said.

After voters rejected the budget, the school board proposed a slightly higher budget with a smaller taxpayer contribution.

The school was able to take advantage of an additional $86,875 in state subsidy to lower the amount raised by local taxes.

An amendment to the budget from a resident during the July 9 open town meeting, however, cut $240,000 out of the regular education budget, which includes teacher salaries and benefits, classroom supplies and tuition for high school students.

The school board is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the school to discuss the next steps if the budget is accepted or rejected.

Residents also will be asked in an exit poll question Tuesday whether they think the budget was too low or too high.

The budget proposed July 9 by the school board included funding for two additional teachers before residents amended it with the cuts.

One of the positions would be an upper-grade-level teacher to fill a vacancy from last year, Westrich said. The school board already chose a candidate, but the proposed reduction leaves that hire in limbo.

The budget also would have funded another kindergarten teacher if an increase in the student count caused the need for another teacher.

Jefferson Town Clerk Lynne Barnikow said the $240,000 proposed cut represents about $73 per $100,000 of assessed property value.

The tax bills have already been sent out without the reduction, however, so any extra money raised would go into the town's surplus, she said.

Barnikow said she doesn't know what would happen to the surplus yet, but it could be used to ease the tax burden next year.

"It's important to know they aren't going to owe less than their tax bill," she said. "The whole thing is currently due."

The Jefferson Village School Parent Teacher Association is against the proposed budget, said Kristi Bisset, president of the association.

The association sent a letter to all the students' parents, encouraging them to vote Tuesday and explaining what the cuts would mean.

"The impact on class size is huge for the kiddos," said Bisset, who has three children at the school. "As a parent, I certainly feel that the kids benefit in the classroom if there isn't much distraction and if the class sizes aren't 20-plus."

Bisset said the cut would equal about $150 in property taxes for her.

"To me, the value of $150 is nothing, considering what we could lose," she said.

The cut approved at the open town meeting was a result of some residents wanting the local contribution to be closer to the amount recommended by the state's Essential Programs and Services funding model, according to Superintendent Steven Bailey.

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