FARMINGTON — The Regional School Unit 9 Board accepted a $28.9 million budget for 2012-13 with a vote of 12-1 Thursday before setting a public budget meeting for 7 p.m. May 21 in the gym at Mt. Blue High School.

The final figure, a $3.6 million increase over the current $25.3 million budget, included an anticipated minimal savings of $200,000 annually for subcontracting cleaning services and the $400,000 expected from the addition of Starks to the district.

It also included the addition of two items previously cut from the budget. The board voted unanimously to add $30,000 to the technology budget and voted 12-1 to add $35,000 to special education for behavioral services.

The votes followed a public hearing held on subcontracting out custodial services, after which the board voted 9-3 to authorize the superintendent to subcontract custodial services, save money and support the education of children.

Several RSU 9 employees and interested residents filled the middle school cafeteria, where a few spoke against the proposed plan to subcontract the work, relating concerns about the hardships for community members who could lose their jobs and insurance or have their hours at RSU 9 reduced.

The change could eliminate 18 custodial positions while reducing the hours of 21 driver/custodians. Out of 41 health insurance packages from the driver/custodian/maintenance employment group, 23 health packages would be eliminated.
The employees have been in contract negotiations for 14 months. It goes to mediation on May 15.

After 15 years as a bus driver/custodial worker, Bruce Rollins questioned the fairness of the proposed budget, comparing it to two models, a pyramid and a circle.

In the pyramid, the people considered more important are at the top and support staff along the base are less important.

In the circular model, everyone is an important part of the team, regardless of position.

“We always have money for the things we put first,” he said.

Telling the board they were taking advantage of people who have the least in the system, Janice David told the board “they ought to be ashamed. If they’re doing their job, they shouldn’t have to go through what you’re putting them through.”

Board member Iris Silverstein questioned the lesson taught to children, “people are expendable.”

The message to kids is people can be thrown away; it’s not right, she said.

The district is now one of the few major employers in the area because other large employers outsourced their work, she said.

Board members voiced the difficulties over the last few years to control the budget.

“Our job as painful as it is, our function is to educate children,” voiced one board member. “That amount of money goes a long way towards doing that.”

A contractor is more apt to hire people who have experience in the buildings, board member Bill Reid said about the custodians ability to find employment, perhaps at a lower wage and without health insurance coverage.

“The reality is we don’t have the money to pay benefit packages like we used to have,” board member Ray Glass said of the difficult decision.

Following the budget meeting on May 21, towns in RSU 9 will validate the budget with open polls on May 24.

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