The RSU 16 School Board heard conflicting pleas from residents about a proposed $24.2 million school budget during a Zoom meeting this week..

POLAND – A number of educators this week urged the RSU 16 School Board to stand behind its proposed $24.2 million spending plan that would hike property taxes in Poland, Mechanic Falls and Minot.

But not everyone’s happy with the plan to hike spending 7.6% at a time when many families are struggling to pay bills.

Poland Select Board Chairwoman Mary-Beth Taylor said Wednesday it is “really frustrating” that school officials are eyeing a tax hike when the economy is in such uncertainty and turmoil.

Supporters said, though, the district is going to face new challenges dealing with the many issues caused by COVID-19, from this spring’s switch to remote learning to job losses by parents.

“Kids’ needs are going to be bigger than they were,” said Katie Toothaker, a Mechanic Falls resident who works for the schools.

“Our children are going to need a lot more support,” Travis Ritchie, a board member, said during this week’s informational budget session.


The school board plans to review the proposed budget Monday with the intention of approving a spending plan that would go before the voters as a single package on July 14.

If the proposed RSU 16 school budget isn’t revised, it will raise taxes in Poland, Mechanic Falls and Minot, according to a chart compiled by the school district as part of its spending plan. RSU 16

The district budget meeting typically held in late June has been shelved this year because of the pandemic, Superintendent Kenneth Healey said.

The proposal budget would, among other things, hike pay for teachers and support staff by 5%, increase administrators’ pay by 3%, and add a world languages teacher at Poland Regional High School and a dean of students at Minot Consolidated School.

Darren Littlefield, a Mechanic Falls resident and co-president of the teachers union, said the pay raise is a necessity to bring salaries more in line with other districts.

“We lose teachers to neighboring school districts because of pay,” he said, “and this will help stem the tide.”

The proposed spending plan was approved 5-4 in early March by a budget committee. The school panel agreed to send it to this week’s information session on a 10-2 vote.


Mary Martin said the board Monday will look at the feedback it has received “and the adjustments that we need” before sending the budget to a public referendum.

“We’ve been really listening well,” she said, and will “have to make some decisions” Monday.

Taylor said that most people in the district accept the need for teachers to get higher salaries but there’s no good reason to press forward with new positions and projects that add to the bottom line.

This is a time, she said, for a flat budget that doesn’t ask residents to pay more.

In a Wednesday Zoom session with House Speaker Sara Gideon, a Freeport Democrat who is running for U.S. Senate, Taylor said the school board is “not really working with us” to hold down taxes, a situation she called “really frustrating” given the possibility of businesses closing and a lingering recession.

School officials said it’s hard to put a budget together with so many unknowns.


It isn’t certain yet that students will even be able to return to the classroom at the start of the next academic year, they said.

“I can’t imagine we’re not going to have at least some remote learning,” Healey said.

One big question mark in the budget is whether it needs as much cash for sports as usual.

Questioned by one resident, Healey said there’s a chance the fall season may have restrictions on travel or may be lost entirely.

“It is very likely we’ll end up losing a good portion of our fall activities,” Healey said, because of the public health rules that make contact sports iffy.

He said officials would be “awful hard-pressed” to allow football or soccer, for example, because players are in close contact. As it is, he said, two students throwing a football would have to stop and wipe it off between each toss.


Healey said, though, that sports such as golf and cross country may be possible since it’s easier to maintain social distancing.

Resident Aaron Ouelette said he hopes the board will trim what it can from the budget. Failing to do so, he said, would be “a little irresponsible.”

But Kaitlynn Brown, principal of Minot School for the past three years, said families and children are under a lot of stress.

Looking ahead, she said, she doesn’t see a situation where children coming to school are going to have fewer needs.

Having a dean of students at the school, she said, would help.

“We need to listen to the teachers,” said Nathan Broyer, a Minot parent.

“Next year is not a normal year,” he said, and teachers will need more support.

Monday’s board meeting will take place online via Zoom beginning at 6:30 p.m.

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