Forum on RSU 9 budget is May 26, last remote learning day is June 5

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FARMINGTON – Directors voted to hold a public forum for the proposed $38.2 million budget for Regional School Unit 9 on May 26 via Zoom videoconferencing as well as implemented a modified calendar for the last few days of school at Tuesday evening’s meeting.

The budget being presented Tuesday includes roughly $200,000 in reductions as compared to previously-presented drafts. Reductions include removing approximately $178,000 in contingency funds, as well as funds previously earmarked to purchase iPads, wireless microphones at the high school and a golf cart for the athletics department. Superintendent Tina Meserve said that the district could afford to reduce the contingency funds due to a combination of retirements and resignations that would leave excess money in wage lines. In some cases, such as for the iPads, federal CARES Act funds could be used to fill gaps, Meserve said.

As presented, the $38,226,924 K-12 budget would represent an increase of $1.1 million or 2.97 percent over the current fiscal year. As As is the case in previous years, state subsidy is up through a combination of increases in enrollment – the district had gained 141 students in the past three years, $212,000 in additional state funding for system administration and more support for career and technical education through the Foster Career and Technical Center.

With Adult Education expenditures accounted for, the budget would utilize $13.5 million in local assessments, a decrease of $188,992, or 1.4 percent less local money raised and appropriated as compared to the current fiscal year. If passed as proposed, the budget would lead to decreases in assessments in five towns and increases in the other five. Specifically, Chesterville would see a decrease of $44,566 or 4.19 percent; Farmington would see a decrease of $157,882 or 3.28 percent; Industry would see an increase of $6,920 or 0.74 percent; New Sharon would see an increase of $2,364 or 0.23 percent; New Vineyard would see an increase of $12,234 or 1.6 percent; Starks would see an increase of $23,180 or 4.82 percent; Temple would see an decrease of $3,835 or .89 percent; Vienna would see an increase of $1,822 or .25 percent; Weld would see a decrease of $24,946 or 5.03 percent; and Wilton would see a decrease of $4,282 or .16 percent.

The board has spent significant time discussing three elements of the budget: an assistant superintendent position, funding for the Success & Innovation Center and including supports for students struggling with drug and alcohol issues. The budget includes funds for a part-time assistant superintendent position that Meserve and supporting directors say it is necessary for a district of RSU 9’s size and will positively impact student progress. The part-time position’s full cost is $60,000 but the proposal includes moving $20,000 of the curriculum coordinator’s salary into grant funding, due to that employee’s work in writing and supporting grant projects.  That position has drawn criticism as well, particularly amid the uncertainties surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Public comment Tuesday evening consisted of Selectperson Tom Saviello of Wilton asking the board to consider removing the position from the budget and Doug Hodum, speaking on behalf of members of the teacher’s association, who said that teachers concerned about the issue felt that it wasn’t the time to add administrative positions.

The SIC provides a place for students to come to get help on projects, help accessing resources for specific problems or help coping with day-to-day life. The center is staffed by a teacher and an ed tech and has been funded by a GEAR Up grant for three years, ending this year. Some directors have advocated adding local money to the budget to keep funding that program. The budget proposed Tuesday evening doesn’t include that, with Meserve instead suggesting covering half a teaching position utilizing CARES Act money and merging that with a preexisting half-time alternative education instructor position to staff the center.

Alcohol abuse is an issue that directors have begun discussing, with some advocating for additional funding and/or positions to address the issue. The proposed budget doesn’t include that, although Meserve said that she does intend to request CARES Act funding to look at ways to address the issue.

The board voted to advance the budget to the public forum, although that won’t be the directors’ final vote on the matter. The board will need to vote after the forum but prior to the annual budget meeting, looking ahead to a referendum vote tentatively scheduled for July 14, the day of the state referendum. The public forum on Tuesday, May 26 will be held through Zoom at 7 p.m. The link is available here.

Information about the budget committee’s presentations and deliberations can be found here, including video from the meetings.

In other business, the school board agreed with a proposal to make June 10 the students’ last day before summer vacation. Pre-COVID-19, the district’s last student day would have been June 16. Maine Department of Education has indicated that it will support local school board’s seeking to modify the previously-approved calendar.

The calendar adopted by the board Tuesday would have the final remote learning day for most students scheduled for Friday, June 5, with current seniors at Mt. Blue High School having their last remote learning day on May 29. June 8 to June 10 would be used to wrap up any miscellaneous issues with students, such as getting school-issued material turned in.

June 11 and June 12 are official staff workdays, but the district will instead hold them in August for whatever transition work is necessary to prepare for the new year. June 15 and June 16 would be flex days for salaries staff. Hourly staff would continue to work their regular schedules/contracted days.

The revised schedule seeks to try and accommodate sending schools relying on Foster Tech, Meserve said.

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