School Committee approves 24 job cuts in Lisbon

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LISBON — Despite more than 100 people crowded into tight quarters at the Lisbon Town Hall, school committee officials accepted an administrative recommendation to cut 24 jobs Monday night.

The move was made in an effort to save the struggling district about $1.1 million.

“It’s at the point now where it’s personal and people feel they’re being pointed at and that’s not the case at all,” Superintendent Rick Green told the crowd comprising teachers, parents, community members and nearly 70 students. “Nobody is pointing fingers. The bottom line is that we do not have the funding to keep the programming as is.”

Green proposed a $13.4 million budget for 2010-11, which is down about $400,000 from the current budget. The Lisbon school system lost over $660,000 in state aid alone when Maine reduced its contributions in an effort to balance its own budget.

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But because costs have risen so dramatically, he has also proposed cutting $1.1 million from the system’s three schools — which meant the reduction and elimination of more than two dozen positions across the system, including teachers, guidance counselors, nurses and custodians. Because some remaining positions would be shared between two schools, it’s unclear exactly how many positions would be cut from the high school alone.

“I don’t even know how we’re supposed to sign up for class if we don’t know what’s going to be cut,” said Jesse Bosse, a sophomore at Lisbon High School who was one of more than 10 people who signed up to address the committee. “It doesn’t make any sense. I’m just concerned. I’m concerned about our education. All of us are.”

Also included in the budget, which now goes before the town council for a vote Tuesday evening, Green proposed asking residents for about $260,000 more in local funding, which would mean a property tax increase of 72 cents per $1,000 valuation.

Green and committee chair Prudence Grant tagged-teamed throughout the meeting to address questions raised by the crowd. Grant stressed again and again that reductions in state and federal aid have taken a toll on the small school system.

“I understand your anger and really feel for you and your peers,” Grant said in answer to a tearful Shawna Reardon, a Lisbon High School junior who read quotes from a bound journal.

The statements were written by several students unable to attend the meeting because they skipped school Monday in protest to the action.

“Sadly, some of the best teachers who’ve been reduced are some of the newest ones who have come in and they’re dynamic,” Grant said.

Also coming to light Monday evening was the district’s consideration of “looping” as an effort to reduce cost. The concept is essentially designed so a team of core subject area teachers follows students from middle  to high school.

“The time to experiment is not the time where we are this close to being a failing school. People need to be trained,” said Jay Levasseur, a math teacher at Lisbon High School.

Levasseur urged officials to hold off on the idea until teachers are better equipped to handle such a major transition. Kathy Wheat, a middle school teacher who lost her position due to the budget cuts, fully agreed with Levasseur and also pointed out the major change that such a move would mean for students as well.

“I hear what they’re saying. I know what you need to do,” Wheat said. “But I just feel that for myself and the kids that are here tonight, they’re being cut short.”

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