HOULTON, Maine — A voter effort Tuesday night to save the jobs of Houlton school district teachers by increasing the 2023-2024 budget $310,000 did not matter.
RSU 29 administrators decided Wednesday to cut 14 percent of teacher positions as they had planned before the district budget meeting vote on Tuesday.
While there have been several teacher cuts in school districts around the state, positions have not been eliminated in the Houlton school district in several years, Superintendent Richard Lyons said.
“The bottomline, the revenue side of the budget has not changed. So given the revenue is the same and the declining enrollment, we can clearly justify that personnel adjustments are warranted,” Lyons said.
Nonetheless, voters from the district’s four towns — Houlton, Littleton, Monticello and Hammond — supported adding $279,000 into next year’s school budget for general education and $31,000 for librarian positions to prevent the district’s planned cuts of 10.4 teaching positions and five support staff.
With the additional $310,000, the 2023-2024 RSU 29 budget is $16 million.
There are 77 teachers in the district. The cuts include teachers in science, English language arts, math, alternative education, elementary education, librarians and support staff. Lyons said some of the eliminated positions will be taken care of by resignations and retirements, but a few teachers will lose their jobs at the end of the school year.
If there are any probationary teachers, they will be the first to be eliminated and then seniority and work evaluations are part of the final decision, he said.
During budget discussions with voters Tuesday night, several residents spoke to the importance of keeping teachers and many asked if there were other items that could be cut from the budget.
Additionally, several residents attempted to add $310,000 into the revenue side of the budget to assure there would be no staff and teacher cuts, but repeated attempts did not pass when residents voted.
Lyons said that it may have mattered if the money was added into the revenue side of the budget, but because student enrollment was continuing to drop each year the positions would still be eliminated.
“It may have mattered ever so slightly. But the key indicator, there is a need to have fewer personnel when we have 50 fewer children,” Lyons said. “Even if we have more money, is it warranted to have the same level of personnel?”
Some attending Tuesday’s district budget meeting thought increasing the budget by $310,000 would keep teacher positions safe.
Reduced state subsidies and rising property valuations forced Houlton school district administrators to make teacher and staff cuts when preparing next year’s school budget, Lyons said.
He will meet with the Maine Education Association representatives on Thursday to confirm the seniority list as defined in the bargaining unit’s reduction-in-force provision, he said. Lyons said he will meet with the principals in the elementary and high schools on Friday to make the final decisions and let the teachers know about their positions.