FARMINGTON — A small group of W. G. Mallett School students and their parents staged a demonstration walk along Middle Street early Friday morning in support of Regional School Unit 9 custodians.

The school board voted 9-3 Thursday night to authorize the superintendent to contract for cleaning services. The action could save an anticipated minimum of $200,000, perhaps more, this year from the maintenance budget.

If RSU 9 hires a private cleaning company, 18 custodians would lose their jobs, 21 driver/custodians would have their hours reduced, and several health packages would be eliminated, according to information passed out at the meeting.

The custodians have been in contract negotiations for 14 months. The matter goes to mediation on May 15.

Representing the Parent Teacher Association, Doug Reusch said at Thursday’s board meeting he opposed the idea. Five others said it wasn’t right to try to save money at the expense of some of the least paid employees in the district.

School board members said it was a hard decision but their role was to provide the best education for students that the district could afford. The money could be used for school programs, they said.

On Friday morning, the small group of demonstrators, mostly of them children, walked to the school carrying signs and waving at bus drivers.

Student Carson Zundel said he doesn’t know the custodians at Mallett school but realizes people are losing their jobs. It was his idea back the employees with cardboard signs reading “support our people” and “golden rule not gold rules.”

Peter Hardy, associate professor at the University of Maine at Farmington, and Reusch voiced concerns at the walk about the custodians being laid off and potentially being rehired by the contracted cleaning service at a lower salary and with no health insurance.

Hardy said UMF faculty and staff have also worked 302 days without a contract.

A school budget meeting takes place at 7 p.m. May 21 at the Mt. Blue High School gym, followed by a districtwide referendum at town polls May 24.

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