JAY — In an emotionally charged meeting at Spruce Mountain Elementary School on Thursday, RSU 73 students, teachers and residents shared their perspective on proposed cuts to the 2017-18 school budget.

The spending plan is $18.12 million, down from $18.8 million this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Spruce Mountain Middle School teacher Jay Lindsey spoke about the proposed elimination of the Spruce Mountain High School cross-country and Nordic skiing programs. He said his son ran cross-country and did Nordic skiing at the high school this year.

“I strongly believe in the importance of providing extracurricular activities for students,” he said. “Once you eliminate these programs, they don’t usually come back.”

Spruce Mountain High School senior Kim Seitz spoke of the value of the digital arts program, which has been targeted for budget cuts. She said that thanks to the program, she will be studying graphic arts at the University of Maine at Farmington next year.

Seitz said digital and graphic arts “are lifelong skills. It prepares us for the 21st century, to get out in the world today.”

Seitz also noted the elimination of the publishing/yearbook course with the proposed budget cuts.

“We want to have the school remembered,” she said. “As seniors, we’re leaving, and would like to look back positively on the school.”

Several residents, however, thought the RSU 73 board of directors could have made more reductions. Jay resident Tony Couture said that last fall, he asked the board to cut significant money from the budget to relieve the burden on taxpayers.

“Based on what I see tonight, the amount of cuts I see, you’ve failed your assignment,” he said. “We should be doing around a 20 percent reduction (in the budget), not 3 percent.”

Jay resident Rick Merrill said, “I understand that nobody likes to hear about having cuts. The town government has cut money because they know that if they don’t, their budget is not going to get passed.”

He said that if taxes keep going up, he would no longer be able to live in Jay.

Tearfully, Merrill addressed the students and said he was sorry they had to face the cuts. He thanked the school board for their work, “but there does need to be deeper cuts than there is here.”

However, most of the comments were in favor of keeping the programs slated for elimination. Jay resident Dan Ryder said he was concerned about the larger class sizes in the Spruce Mountain Primary School first grade. Two teaching positions won’t be filled because of retirements at the end of the school year.

Livermore resident Jean Tardif noted there had been no cuts in the business manager, curriculum coordinator and superintendent positions.

“We’re not a big enough district for all three positions,” she said. “We’re nickel and diming programs. We’re asking teachers to take big hits and kids to take big hits, but nothing in administration.”

Spruce Mountain High School senior Emma DiPompo also urged the board to reconsider the program cuts.

“I really like seeing my tax money go to these programs at the school,” she said, noting that she recently got a part-time job. “I feel proud that my taxes go to something that I may not be doing but a lot of other students love.”

Spruce Mountain High School teacher Kym Bryant said many people are frightened because of layoffs at Verso’s Androscoggin Mill and wonder what will happen if it shuts down. However, she added, the mill is the only employer larger than the school in the communities.

RSU 73 includes Jay, Livermore and Livermore Falls.

“The reality is this school is the next thing that keeps this town going,” she said. Investing in the school, she added, is an investment in the community and its future workforce.

The next school budget meeting is at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 9, at the Spruce Mountain Primary School gym.

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Spruce Mountain High School student Kim Seitz addresses the audience at an RSU 73 Board of Directors meeting Thursday.

“I strongly believe in the importance of providing extracurricular activities for students.” — Spruce Mountain Middle School teacher Jay Lindsey

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