School board deals with summer accruals, driver testing procedure

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The Regional School Unit 9 school board.

FARMINGTON – School board directors approved a proposal to accommodate a change in how Regional School Unit 9 funds staff salaries and a procedure to conduct drug and alcohol testing for school bus drivers.

The meeting began with a moment of silence for those killed or injured in the Sept. 16 explosion at a building on the Farmington Falls Road. Building administrators reported good participation in Friday’s “Wear Red” campaign, as well as in fundraising efforts for those impacted in the blast. These included money donated during last Friday’s football game, as well as other sports events that saw teams providing donations to benefit Farmington causes.

The board approved a five-year plan to spread out the impact of shifting the way that salaries are paid to teachers in the summer months. Like most districts, RSU 9 spreads out the salaries of staff over the summer months, paying money earned in September through June over the course of July and August, to provide year-round paychecks. As the new fiscal year turns over on July 1, this creates an issue wherein salaries are earned in one fiscal year, but paid off in the next year’s budget.

For years, Superintendent Tina Meserve said Thursday, districts simply carried the unfunded liability of the salaries into the next fiscal year, as districts were generally extremely stable. That changed following the 2009 consolidation push, which saw a number of districts dissolve, form new districts and in some cases separate again. Now, auditors are pushing to account for staff salaries in the fiscal year in which they were earned. For RSU 9, that means picking up two months of salaries, or roughly $1.96 million.

The proposal ultimately adopted by board members Tuesday was to phase in the change over five years. A total of $600,000 would be utilized out of the Undesignated Fund, estimated at $1.4 million at the end of the previous fiscal year, with no impact on this year’s budget, which has already been approved. In fiscal years 2021, 2022, a total of $80,000 would be paid each year. In fiscal year 2023, that payment goes to $400,000 – that corresponds to the final debt payment on the Mt. Blue Middle School bond, saving the district an estimated $328,000. In theory, the process would be complete after the 2025 budget, although circumstances could impact the estimate: teacher salaries, for example.

Meserve said at Tuesday’s meeting that a five-year approach was more cautious, minimizing the impact of the shift on the year-to-year budget. Director Dennis O’Neil of Farmington instead recommended dealing with the shift over a shorter period of time. The board eventually voted to approve the five-year plan, with O’Neil and Director Betsy Hyde of Temple opposed.

The board also approved an administrative procedure for the drug and alcohol testing of school bus drivers. Discussion focused on non-commercial motor vehicle operators – i.e. non-bus drivers – that might be transporting students on a regular basis. In RSU 9, two positions would fall under that category: a single van driver and a yet-unfilled position to drive a car. Some directors felt that the new procedure should incorporate the non-Commercial Driver License employees, while others supported a separate policy or set of standards for those employees. The procedure for CDL employees, which previously didn’t exist in the district, was required by the state, Meserve noted.

After some debate, the board approved the new procedure with the addendum that the board be presented with a statement or policy that would address the car and/or van driver prior to the end of the year. Directors Lidie Robbins of Vienna, Iris Silverstein of Farmington and Debbie Smith of Weld were opposed.

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