MADISON — Residents and members of the school district’s community gathered Thursday at Madison Junior High School following an announcement earlier in the week that the district could potentially lay off 14 faculty members and staff if a proposed budget doesn’t pass.

The $10.36 million proposed budget includes a $969,237 increase in the amount to be paid by local taxpayers, a roughly 19 percent increase over the $5,043,690 residents were asked to pay towards the 2012-2013 budget.

School Administrative District 59 superintendent Todd LeRoy acknowledged that the budget is “outrageously high” but encouraged residents to pass it in order to preserve the programs and jobs the district provides. Earlier in the week LeRoy said he issued preliminary layoff notices to 14 members of the district’s roughly 105 employees.

He said that if the proposed budget does not pass, the district will potentially have to eliminate or reduce some of those positions, which include faculty in the arts, music, business and health departments.

Some residents, including a selectman, said they were surprised by the increase in the budget and they were unsure of whether to support it considering the approach the district has taken to potential cuts.

“I am concerned the focus is on cutting programs in order to save money, especially when there doesn’t seem to be any effort to negotiate pay and benefits,” said Jack Ducharme, vice chairman of the board of selectmen.

Ducharme said the $10.36 million budget represents a tax increase of about $200 on a $100,000 house.

“We can’t rest on contracts. We are left with cutting programs as the only mechanism to reduce taxes,” he said.

Ducharme suggested reducing salaries and benefits — which represent about 80 percent of the budget according to LeRoy — at least temporarily in order to save money and jobs.

LeRoy said the teachers’ union has declined to re-negotiate contracts.

Jen Wiltse, a high school science teacher and president of the Madison Area Educational Association, the local teacher’s union, said she had no comment on contracts Thursday.

Jeff Lloyd, 57, a Madison resident who has sent two children to school in the district, said he agreed that the budget had to be reduced from what was proposed. He said he was disappointed with what the district had presented.

“I hate to sound cold-hearted but there is no way to get there without affecting people. I feel terrible saying that,” he said. “I can handle the increase in my tax bill, but I know there are many people who can’t.”

Some residents at Thursday’s meeting also expressed concern that LeRoy will get an additional $25,000 in pay this year. In December LeRoy became principal of Madison Area Memorial High School when then-principal Stephen Oullette was dismissed. He said he has since taken on the job of principal for $25,000, which is less than the district would be paying to hire a new principal, and said he hopes the district does not have to make any more cuts.

“The losses we are looking at could be potentially devastating,” said LeRoy.

Administrators including Madison Elementary School Principal Scott Mitchell and junior high Principal Bonnie Levesque echoed the superintendent’s message that the district is already operating on a thin budget. Both said they have also seen a reduction in staff and resources over their time at the schools.

“Our school has done well academically but we are concerned that there could be more cuts,” said Mitchell, who has been principal for three years. He said that in that time he has lost a custodian, two kindergarten ed techs and a library aide.

Other teachers at the meeting also said they would encourage residents to support the budget.

Lee Harper, 43, a junior high art teacher, is one of the 14 faculty and staff to have been notified that he might lose his job. A Madison resident, he supports six children and his wife, a stay-at-home mom, on his teacher’s salary.

“I hope people see the benefit of the arts. They are very important for our students,” he said.

Many residents also said they are still looking for more information on the budget and proposed cuts.
“I haven’t figured it out. I don’t like the cuts but I want to get more information,” said Nic Helderman, 51, a Madison resident who works at Backyard Farms. He has one son in the district and two others that have graduated from school in Madison. Helderman said he would feel comfortable paying a little more in taxes to support the programs in the Madison schools.

“It’s worth it to save the arts,” he said.

“I think its awful that they want to cut our teachers and educational programs,” said Geneva Asselin, 53, of Madison. She said her grandchildren attend school in the district and that although she is oppossed to more cuts, she is skeptical whether they would take place.

“I think it is a scare tactic. There are other things they can cut like sports, and not teachers,” she said.
LeRoy said that co-curriculars, including all sports and after-school activities make up less than three percent of the district budget and the financial benefits of cutting these programs would be minimal in comparison to the benefit they provide to students.

Another informational meeting on the budget will be held at 6 p.m. next Thursday, June 20, in the junior high school auditorium and will be followed by a budget validation meeting at 7 p.m. A referendum vote is scheduled for Thursday, June 27.

Rachel Ohm —  612-2368
[email protected]

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