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School budget cuts hit home for longtime district employee

FORT KENT, Maine — When Dave Michaud, 61, reported to his job as head custodian at Fort Kent Elementary School on Wednesday, July 3, he had no idea his life was about to change, and not for the better.

Michaud arrived at work to find that after 39 years serving the school district, he no longer had a job at all. 

His supervisor and the district superintendent met Michaud that morning and informed him that the school board decided to cut his position in order to reduce the school budget.

“I was just totally devastated. I just saw my life changing,” Michaud said of learning the news. 

Voters in the greater Fort Kent area decided at referendum on Tuesday, June 11, against a proposed 2019-2020 Maine School Administrative budget that would have significantly increased taxes in the local towns. The combined vote among the towns was 212 for the school budget, and 232 against.

The school budget would have raised taxes in several of the towns by at least a mill. 

Since then, the district made significant cuts to the budget, including Michaud’s position.

Other reductions include the elimination of two special education one-on-one positions, as well as technology software and an early elementary literacy program.

A grandfather of eight, Michaud said what he will miss most about working at FKES is the children. 

“I am now, with the amount of time I’ve been there, dealing with the grandchildren of the kids I first started working with; that meant something to me and I’ve been thinking about that,” he said. 

Michaud also was looking forward to working at FKES this fall because his grandson will be attending Pre-K at the school. 

With no retirement plan through the school district, Michaud said he was looking forward to retiring and collecting Social Security after working four more years, when he will reach the age of 65. Now he will be looking for a new job, something he said will not be an easy task for a man his age. 

Michaud pointed out some of the cost-saving measures he made throughout the years as head custodian of the elementary school.

“Back in the mid-’80s when I became head custodian, heating oil at FKES was in the range of between 35,000 to 40,000 gallons per year. I was able to identify areas of waste, and made changes and oversaw changes to the system,” he said. “I learned how the system worked and the experience with operating the boilers brought the oil consumption down to an average of 19,500 gallons per year since the late ‘80s or very early ‘90s. This alone paid my wages.”

Other such measures include building new classroom desks and bookcases, and performing plumbing and electrical work, eliminating the need for expensive outside contractors for those tasks, Michaud said. 

If  the school budget fails to pass at the next referendum, there will potentially be more employee positions on the chopping block.

The district plans to perform a class size audit to examine possible reductions in  teaching positions.

Sub-varsity sports as well as Middle School B Team sports will be eliminated. There will potentially be a pay-to-play for remaining varsity and middle school sports. The district is also considering eliminating after-school programming at FKES, the late bus, and reducing Pre-K classes to two days a week. 

The next SAD 27 budget hearing will take place at 6 p.m. Monday, July 22, at the Fort Kent Community High School cafeteria. The referendum vote will take place Wednesday, Aug. 21.

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