MADISON — The school board entered Monday’s meeting facing a laundry list of possible cuts and changes to address the 2012-13 budget: transferring Athens seventh and eighth graders to the Madison junior high, moving the central office, eliminating the alternative education program, ending home economics classes and cutting four positions.

“This is probably the most difficult thing you do as a board,” Superintendent Todd LeRoy said at the beginning of the meeting.

Among other decisions, officials ultimately voted to move the central office operations into the Madison Area Junior High School, eliminate a round of morning bus routes in the Athens area, cut the home economics program and end the alternative education program.

The school board also unanimously voted not to move 35 seventh- and eighth-graders from Athens Elementary School to the Madison junior high. The district previously saw extreme backlash from Athens residents who wanted to preserve their entire school, which serves pre-kindergarten through grade eight.

The district is looking to fill a financial gap of about $500,000, primarily because of the withdrawal of one of the towns.

“With the withdrawal of Starks this last year we’re looking at a pretty big hill we’re going to have to climb,” LeRoy said. “Financially we’re taking a hit, and we have to be able to survive.”

LeRoy emphasized that administrators deliberated about the proposed cuts. “None of these are just being thrown out there by chance,” he said. “Are there some negative impacts? I don’t think you can make cuts at all without there being some type of impact.”

Board members voted unanimously to move the central office operations on Weston Avenue into available offices at the Madison junior high School on Main Street.

The move would be made as soon as possible and would save about $14,000, LeRoy said. The district would offer the building to the town.

The board ultimately voted not to change from a part-time to a full-day kindergarten program at Athens Elementary School. There are about 16 kindergarten children in Athens.

The decision was paired with an option to eliminate pre-kindergarten services at the Athens school and require parents to drive their pre-k students to Madison Elementary School. There are about nine Athens students in pre-kindergarten and about 34 in Madison.

“You’re asking Athens to take something away, which makes it a whole different decision,” Starks board member Jennifer Zweig Hebert said. “To drive the distance from Athens to Madison for a two-and-a-half hour preschool is going to probably mean that preschool is not going to be offered to kids that need it the most.”

The board voted to eliminate a bus driver position because of anticipated fewer bus runs in Starks. Starks has voted to secede from the district and is trying to join with Farmington-based Mt. Blue Regional School District.

With the retirement of a home economics teacher, the board approved ending the high school classes about cooking, sewing and home management. Not hiring a new teacher will save about $70,000, LeRoy said.

“We’re one of the few schools in the state that are even offering it,” he said.

Board members then voted to eliminate a physical education teacher. LeRoy said the work could be spread among the remaining three physical education instructors.

The board voted to eliminate one of two foreign language instructors who work mainly at the high school. They did not vote about which language to cut: Spanish or French.

Lastly, they tackled the alternative education program, voting unanimously to cut it.

The alternative education program helps students obtain credits for classes they failed or need to earn. It’s a successful program with one teacher and about 10 students, LeRoy said. But it is funded by the federal Education Jobs Fund, and the money is not available after this year.

Stopping the program would not save the district money but would prevent it from having to spend money, LeRoy said.

In addition to the bus driver, physical education instructor and foreign language instructor, the board also voted to eliminate one administrative assistant.

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