MECHANIC FALLS — Regional School Unit 16 will be asking for more money for 2020-21 budget, according to Superintendent Ken Healey, who presented the spending plan to the Town Council on Monday night.

“We will be asking for an increase,” in local taxes, Healey said. “To what degree that is, I don’t know.”

Healey, along with School Committee Chairperson Mary Martin, said the negotiated salary contracts for teachers and support staff include 5% increases.

Last year, the state passed legislation which stipulated the minimum starting salary of $40,000 for teachers will be phased in over three years, starting with the 2020-21 school year.

Healey and Martin said the new contracts incorporate the increase.

According to the National Education Association, the average starting salary in the nation for the 2017-18 school year was $39,249. Maine’s average starting salary that school year was $34,788. Only nine states paid less: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma and South Carolina.

Healey said he believes the state subsidy will be increased, but doesn’t know if the state plans to “kick in additional funding” to help with the mandated phase-in of the salary increase.

Martin added the district will “utilize as much of the (undesignated) fund balance as we can” to offset the budget increase.

Healey and Martin said a community survey done last year revealed that 70% felt the teachers weren’t paid enough, that 54% thought the support staff were underpaid and that 59% believed the bus drivers’ pay was too low.

The bus drivers and RSU 16 officials are still in negotiations.

Martin said the budget process will start in February and RSU 16 again will be asking for a resident from each the three district towns, Mechanic Falls, Minot and Poland, to serve on the budget panel with School Committee members.

Healey said the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the expanded addition of Bruce M. Whittier Middle School at the high school is set for Monday, Jan. 13, at 7:45 a.m. An open house will be held from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. the same day.

In other business, the Town Council voted to allow the video recording of all Planning Board meetings, which will be available on YouTube. Planning Board member Paula Stotts requested the video recording.

Stotts also asked what progress, if any, had been made on the investigation into the Code Enforcement Office. In November of last year, the council voted to appoint Robert Overton, the director of code enforcement for Augusta, as an independent third party to investigate complaints against the town’s code enforcement office.

The investigation has yet to begin. At Monday night’s meeting, it was explained that Planning Board chair Lou Goulet will be notified by the council that he will be the contact person for Overton, and supply any documents Overton requests.

According to town officials, once Overton completes the investigation he will supply a sealed report to the council, which will then meet in executive session to review the report.

Stotts listed a series of decisions in Planning Board business that, in her opinion, were done in error. According to Stotts, they were made from September through December 2019.

Fifield asked Stotts to provide a written record of these and submit them to town officials. The possible errors dealt with marijuana applications, square foot variances and code enforcement procedures.

The Town Council also approved the relocation of the town’s historical society holdings from the Anglican Church of Transfiguration to the Municipal Building.

The hiring of a recreation coordinator to replace Ashley Cleaves, who left for another job, was tabled for further discussion. The council gave its OK for the Recreation Committee to use the balance of funds appropriated for the position for the remainder of this budget year.

There was no discussion on the Government Entity Pursuant Letter that was submitted Dec. 9 by Town Manager Zakk Maher’s attorney, Adam Lee. The letter preserved Maher’s right to sue the town for $200,000 as a result of the council’s effort last June to fire him. Fifield said Jack Conway, the town’s attorney, was unable to attend Monday night’s meeting due to illness.

This story was updated on Jan. 7 to correct an error regarding the status of the investigation into allegations about the town’s Code Enforcement Office.

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