MADISON — The school district is considering eliminating art, music, business and health teaching positions if the proposed budget is not passed and it is forced to make more cuts, according to the superintendent.

Fourteen staff positions are at risk in the district of about 105 teachers and staff, said Todd LeRoy, School Administrative District 59 superintendent, on Wednesday.

Last month, the district’s board of directors passed a $10.36 million budget, which includes an approximately $900,000 increase.        

Residents will consider the budget at informational meetings tonight, as well as June 20 during the town meeting-style validation vote. A referendum vote is scheduled for June 27.

LeRoy said that while the school board has already made as many cuts as possible, the budget is still exceptionally high and the board is considering making more cuts if it is not passed by voters.

“We are experiencing some tough times. We have been cutting responsibly all the way along, but if we are forced to cut anything else, it is going to be programs. It is going to be people,” said LeRoy.

LeRoy said that preliminary layoff notices were given to 14 teachers and staff already, in order for them to have as much time as possible to look for other positions, if the layoffs do happen. Those include 11 teachers from the art, music, business and health programs; one ed tech; one social worker and one nurse, he said.

Whether all those positions will need to be eliminated will be determined by whether cuts are made and in what amounts, LeRoy said. He said that more information on possible scenarios will be available at tonight’s informational meeting. There is also the potential that some positions could be changed from full-time to part-time, he said.

Jim Small, who has taught art at the high school for 30 years, is one of the 14 staff members who received a layoff notice. On Wednesday, he said that he hopes the budget will pass as is.

“Programs like the visual arts, music and business give students the opportunity to figure out where they fit in. There’s a misperception that they’re not core subject areas, but they are and we need to support them,” he said.

Small said he has 137 students registered for visual arts classes next year and that over his career, he has seen many students succeed in the arts both in high school and after.

Jennifer Allen, 18, a 2013 graduate of the high school, is one of them. Allen, who has two sisters and a brother that also attend school in Madison, said Small, who was her art teacher and mentor for four years, was one of the reasons she chose to attend that high school. Her family is from Starks, where students have school choice, she said. Allen plans to attend Central Maine Community College next year to study automotive technology, but said that photography, painting and jewelry making are her backup plans and have helped her make money while in school.

“It upsets me that these programs might be lost. How many students will want to go to school here if there is nothing left?” she said.

The district has already decided to eliminate teaching positions for physical education, French and Spanish, as well as an administrative assistant position, said LeRoy. He added that they will be hiring a new position for a dual-enrollment foreign language teacher to teach both French and Spanish and replace the two positions lost.

The district has 55 full-time teachers and about 50 support staff including bus drivers, custodians and ed techs, said LeRoy. About half of them live in Madison, he said.

“These proposals are so drastic and affect every student that teachers had a hard time believing they could be true. We want to make sure parents understand the gravity of the situation and choose to support students and support the schools,” said Jen Wiltse, a high school science teacher and president of the Madison Area Educational Association, the local teacher’s union. She said the union is strongly encouraging voters to support the proposed budget and to attend the informational meetings, validation meeting and referendum vote.

Overall, the district’s budget is less than last year, but because two communities have left, more of the financial burden has shifted to Madison residents, said LeRoy. The towns of Athens and Brighton Plantation withdrew from SAD 59 earlier this year to form their own school districts.

Enrollment in the district has also declined, said LeRoy. For 2012-2013, the district enrolled about 915 students, and they expect to lose 138 because of the withdrawals, he said.

High school students from Athens and Brighton Plantation still have the option to attend high school in Madison. LeRoy said he expects about half of them to remain in the district next year.

He also said there are a number of other things that have caused the local share of the budget to increase, including a $61,000 reduction in funds received from the state and the cost of sending students to charter schools, which the district is estimating about $200,000 for next year. There is also a potential shift in teacher retirement costs from the state to local districts, which would be about $130,000 for Madison, according to LeRoy.

“It kills me inside to think about the kinds of cuts we may have to make. We have a wonderful staff, and to lose any of that would be a crime,” LeRoy said.

According to the Department of Education, the district has until June 30 to pass a budget. LeRoy said the process has been prolonged because of the time it took for Athens and Brighton Plantation to go through withdrawal, a 30-step process delineated by the state that includes specific and lengthy timelines. Normally, the Madison district would have a budget prepared by the end of April or early May, he said.

Jim Rier, deputy commissioner of education for the department, said if voters want to have a say in the budget, the best decision they can make is to attend the budget validation meeting.

“Everyone has the opportunity to validate and say yes or no to what has occurred,” he said.

LeRoy said that last year about 100 people attended the district’s budget validation meeting and that he expects more this year. Residents will have the opportunity to raise or lower funds in line items within the proposed budget, he said.

“We are really encouraging people to vote. Supporting the budget saves these positions and services,” he said.

Rachel Ohm —  612-2368
[email protected]

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