Fate of RSU 9 budget still unclear, faces union opposition

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FARMINGTON – The union representing custodians, bus drivers and secretaries at the Mt. Blue Regional School District voted this week not to reopen their contract and rejected a wage freeze as a way to reduce the budget, according to the local union’s president.

The vote complicates the budget process where $203,000 in wage freezes for support staff, teachers and administrators was already calculated into the $22.1 million approved at a district budget meeting Tuesday.

The salary concessions for the support staff represents about $90,000, according to the local union’s president Terry Mosher. About 95 percent of the union members on Monday voted to reject the request.

“We are only in the first year of a three-year contract. When we negotiated this contract, we knew there would be a hit coming up and that was why we bargained and accepted a very small pay raise,” he said.

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The actual pay raise for 2010-2011 would be about 1.5 percent, he said.

“We negotiated in good faith and they go ahead and do a budget that has a freeze. It’s not right,” he said.

A wage freeze is still being negotiated with the teachers’ union. If no agreement is reached, the school board will need to make further cuts and could consider mandatory furlough days, officials said.

A referendum validation vote on the budget will be Tuesday, May 18, held in each of the nine district towns. If it fails, the budget process will start again.

“We are obligated to honor (the union) contract and they made the decisions they want their pay raises,” Superintendent Michael Cormier said Thursday.

“What we did when preparing the budget was to show what would happen if everyone was to continue earning what they are earning now and we agreed to keep health insurance costs where they are,” he said. “If we had honored their contract while we were building the budget, we would have had more positions cut.”

The $22.1 million budget eliminates 12 teaching positions and two support staff jobs as well as programs, supplies and operating costs across the board. Due to retirements, vacancies not being filled and job shuffling according to seniority, only two teachers and two bus drivers will lose their jobs.

Cormier said other jobs will now be on the line.

On Tuesday, the budget – already $1.5 million lower than last year – was cut another $110,000 in the administration account, a move strongly supported by the support staff in the audience, Cormier said.

The cut, approved 86-84, was supposed to reflect the salary of Assistant Superintendent Susan Pratt, who is leaving to become superintendent of the Livermore Falls school district.

However, only $35,000 of the $754,522 requested in the administration account goes toward Pratt’s salary. The cut will also affect technology administration, the board of directors, and the five positions in central office – human resources, payroll, accounts payable, and a business manager and administrative assistant, Cormier said.

The rest of Pratt’s salary comes from curriculum instruction, assessment, and from federal Title 1 grants.

Cormier said the school board may tap the $90,000 in three contingency accounts to cover a portion of the $110,000 cut. Those funds are normally used for unanticipated expenses.

When the board meets May 25, members could discuss changing the assistant superintendent’s job to director of curriculum, instruction, assessment and grants that would have a lower salary than the $109,000 Pratt was earning.

The suggestion had already been on the table prior to Tuesday’s vote, he said.

The $110,000, while cut from administration, was still raised since the article to raise the total $22.1 million was approved by voters. The funds, however, are not available without another district vote but could be used next year to offset an anticipated $1 million cut in state aid, Cormier said.

Mosher said the motion to cut the administration article was planned before Tuesday’s district budget meeting and members were encouraged to attend. The intention was to use the money for support staff and teachers’ salaries.

“At least we have the recognition now that we are out there and if there is a special meeting to decide on how to use it, we can help allocate it to where it needs to go,” he said.

“Right now, we have to make a decision. Take a pay freeze and accept furlough days or else they are going to lay off people. It puts us in a very awkward position,” he said.

bjespersen@beeline-online.net

The Mt. Blue Regional School District (Regional School Unit 9) will hold a referendum vote to adopt the 2010-2011 budget on May 18. Voting hours by town are:

Chesterville, 1 to 6 p.m., Town Office

Farmington, 1 to 6 p.m., Community Center

Industry, noon to 6 p.m., Town Hall

New Sharon, 1 to 6 p.m., Town Office

New Vineyard, 2 to 6 p.m., Smith Hall

Temple, 3 to 7 pm., Town Hall

Vienna, 4 to 8 p.m., Fire Station

Weld, 4 to 8 p.m., Town Office

Wilton, 1 to 6 p.m., Town Office

 

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