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‘Protest vote’ results in $14 operating budget for MSAD 58

Voters approved a series of budgetary articles at $1 Thursday evening, effectively defunding MSAD 58 in the next fiscal year.

Voters approved a series of budgetary articles at $1 Thursday evening, effectively defunding MSAD 58 in the next fiscal year.

[Updated 2 p.m.] The MSAD #58 Board of Directors have arranged a special meeting for Tuesday, June 2, 2015 at 7 p.m. at Mt. Abram High School.

SALEM - More than 100 residents of MSAD 58 effectively defunded their school district Thursday evening, as the long-simmering dispute between the Mt. Abram Teachers Association and the district finally boiled over.

Attendees wasted no time turning the meeting from the $9.4 million budget proposed by the school board to the issues raised by the association in a Declaration of No Confidence issued yesterday. Teachers and Ed Techs in the district overwhelmingly supported the document, which called for a "critical re-evaluation of [MSAD 58's] leadership direction" due to the district being in "crisis."

After an introduction to the budget by Luci Milewski and the swearing in of moderator Paul Mills and the ballot clerks, the Regular Instruction article was immediately amended from $3.33 million down to $1. Given that the board had decided to ignore the input of professional educators and implement their own agendas, Christina Mitman said after making the motion, regular instruction in the district could be paid for with $1.

Teacher Steve Mitman addresses the school board.

Teacher Steve Mitman addresses the school board.

The vote to fund the Regular Instruction article was 67 in favor and 49 in opposition. While those attending the meeting would proceed through all 18 articles, discussion moved from the budget, which included $192,000 for a new pre-Kindergarten program, to the rift between educators and the school board.

Issues raised by teachers, or those advocating for the teachers, included subjects that have been discussed before: the longstanding contractual disputes between the association and district, the use of a Portland-based lawyer to assist the school board with negotiations, and questions about other financial items, such as pay-to-play athletics. The most consistently-leveled accusation by teachers, however, was that the school board no longer supported or respected educators within the district.

"Last year, I got up here and said we're coming to a cliff," teacher Steve Mitman said. "Folks, we're over the cliff."

Comments by educators echoed the Declaration of No Confidence issued by the association yesterday. That document, which had the support 93 of 94 educators as of Wednesday evening, blamed an "unprecedented exodus of staff members at all levels; administrators, teachers and ed techs," the declaration reads. "Not only is the cost for filling these positions putting a significant burden on the budget, it's not clear that quality replacements will be available while the conditions that are driving staff away remain in place."

Four administrators had previously announced they were leaving the district in the past few weeks: Superintendent Erica Brouillet,  Technology Manager Angel Allen,  Business Manager Luci Milewski and assistant principal/athletic director James Black. Thursday evening, Brouillet indicated that a fifth administrator, Mt. Abram High School Marco Aliberti, was also resigning.

Additionally, Brouillet said that a candidate to fill the technology manager position had decided against coming to the district. The school board had approved a $10,000 increase in that position to $75,000 in a bid to draw the qualified candidate.

A number of speakers at the meeting urged those involved in the district's disputes to work together. Marc Edwards of Strong, who said the school in Strong was what drew his family to the area, questioned the impact of the protest vote and dispute on the education of the district's students.

Student Brandon Haines addresses residents at Thursday's meeting.

Student Brandon Haines addresses residents at Thursday's meeting.

"We really need to look at what we're doing to this district," Edwards said.

Sophomore Brandon Haines, who said he was sunburned after three days of protesting in front of Mt. Abram High School, and that he knew there were "wonderful" people on both the school board and association.

"We see these two groups of wonderful people at each others throats," Haines said, asking both groups to sit down and "try and meet in the middle."

Neal McCurdy of Kingfield got a laugh when he asked both sides to take some of the money spent on lawyers, "buy some shovels for some of the teachers and the school board and go bury some egos."

In addition to the unresolved teacher contracts and rapidly diminishing pool of administrators, another issue facing the district is a renewed push by Kingfield to discuss withdrawing from MSAD 58. Selectman Mervin Wilson pointed out that his town had set aside $20,000 to consider the idea. Kingfield currently pays more than a third of the local tax assessments for the district.

"Do you think this creates any more confidence in the district?" Wilson said, addressing the $1 protest votes. He asked that the meeting simply be adjourned after Article 2, which deals with the Special Education cost center, was also set at $1.

However, moderator Mills said that the meeting articles did need to be disposed of before a motion to adjourn could be entertained. Residents moved quickly through the warrant, approving $1 for all articles except Article 10: Debt Service, which was set at the recommended $255,955, and Article 15: Pre-K, which was set at $0. Those in attendance advised against cutting debt service even temporarily, as those funds are used to pay off debt for school projects. As recommended, Article 15 would have raised $192,033 in one-time, start-up costs for a pre-K program. Milewski said that the program was expected to more than pay for itself by the second year.

The overall budget was set in Article 14 at $255,964. That represented the debt service payments plus $14 in protest votes.

Several voters questioned whether the confirmation referendum scheduled for June 9 would need to be held. It is believed that the school board can prevent an effectively meaningless budget meeting result from proceeding to referendum. A new meeting will be required to set a budget capable of supporting the MSAD 58 through the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1.

Business Manager Luci Milewski explains an aspect of the proposed budget to residents, moderator Paul Mills at right and school board directors at left.

Business Manager Luci Milewski explains an aspect of the proposed budget to residents, moderator Paul Mills at right and school board directors at left.

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69 Responses »

  1. The school board needs legal help in order to make sure they are entering into agreements that make sense financially for this district for many years to come. The teaching staff has professional resources on their side, so it is necessary for the school board to do the same. Oncee the school system does that, the teachers wants are usually reduce d by the school board in the bargaining process. The teachers then drag the process out, start blaming it on the school board, and then start trying to gain public support from certain parents. You see this play out in school system after school system. Even though it is costing the school board a significant amount of legal monies, this ends up saving them many more times than that in future costs. What happens time and again when you read the paper, is that school systems will state that the school budget is going up so much because of negotiated contracts and they can't do any thing about these costs. Well you can! It is called bargaining and not giving the house away. Keep up the good work Mt Abram school board.

  2. Randi, that may be true elsewhere (I wouldn't know), but here its almost exactly the opposite from what you described. Our negotiators are school teachers; not what one would normally consider a frightening opponent. They went to the first meeting as themselves, prepared to negotiate with people they knew from the community. Instead, the found a lawyer from away whom they had never met, and who did all of the talking in the entire meeting. This continued for several meetings before teachers threw up their hands and said "we can't do this process with a lawyer because we aren't lawyers ourselves." It was only then that they asked MEA to send a representative.

    Former MTA math teacher Neil McCurdy pointed out an important fact the other night: a lawyer who bills by the hour has a strong incentive to see that a settlement is avoided. In three years, the Board's lawyer has earned more than $200,000 in MSAD 58. Teachers have pointed out often that our representative from MEA costs the taxpayers nothing, but its also important to note that they (we've had to go through several) are salaried workers. They don't make a dime from extending the process. Its the opposite in fact; the longer this goes, the more extra work they have, without any extra pay. That right there is a very strong incentive to settle, and the reason we keep having to change our representatives: they get burned out.

    And finally, the figures just don't add up, because the teachers never asked for anything unreasonable. You can see exactly what has been saved just by looking at the offers. The difference is a fraction of that $200,000, and it was never that high even at the very beginning. This has simply cost the taxpayers more, and the only person who's truly benefited lives in a no doubt very nice home in southern Maine.

  3. The school committee cannot lead the school district. In my opinion the school board needs to employ a strong superintendent who has the full support and confidence of the board. The board needs to empower him/her to guide them out of these difficulties. Hire an experienced superintendent who will do the negotiation on the board's behalf rather than use an expensive negotiation consultant. Hire a superintendent who can bring the factions together and work out compromises. Bring in a superintendent who can earn the respect and trust of the staff and the community, someone who wants to become a part of the Mt. Abram community and make a commitment for the long haul. There's no substitute for skillful, energetic leadership. The board needs to be willing to work with and follow the lead of the superintendent. The troubles now affecting MSAD 58 have been slowly piling up over time due to lack of effective, consistent leadership.

  4. I absolutely agree Randi, "The school board needs legal help in order to make sure they are entering into agreements that make sense financially for this district for many years to come." Before voting to approve any item in a contract it would be foolish for either side to not have their legal counsel check out the fine print.

    However, the piece that the public is not aware of is the previous superintendent used the lawyer to do 90% of the talking DURING the actual negotiations! We (taxpayers) paid for a Portland lawyer to get in his car drive to Kingfield, talk and drive back to the tune of $200k !!!!!! That is MISUSE of public funds, it is also an example of a superintendent who is not doing a very critical piece of their (high paid) job.

    As for the teachers, they entered the process 3 years ago asking for NOTHING! Yes, that's the truth. The only goal was to not lose ground on health insurance and on the salary scale we currently have. We have since given on BOTH of these fronts in negotiations both in public and in private and it is not enough for the board to settle!

  5. I propose a simple solution to our crisis.

    The problem is that both sides have escalated the issue to point now where only destruction of the other side will be a 'win'.

    The contract is now signable (let's be honest), but teachers won't sign it because this has become an issue of respect for their professionalism and expertise.

    The school board is now in a spot where only new teachers will fix the problem, since our teachers have been characterized as (essentially) lazy, overpaid, underperforming union thugs; they 'suck' according to one board member in public venue.

    Here's my proposal. Address both of these issues.

    The board needs to make a statement of confidence in our teachers. Admit that the rhetoric has escalated to the point of ridiculous hyperbole. Our teachers don't 'suck'. There needs to be some admission that the board has overstepped in this area of micromanagement and disregarding of teacher expertise and micromanagement. Create some meaningful mechanism for teacher input that has some teeth, and recognizes their years of experience and training when it comes to academic matters.

    Teachers, on the other hand, need to recognize that there *are* some less than stellar teachers in our district. The community IS willing to pay for quality but they feel helpless when the teachers circle the union wagons at the first sign of discontent. You need to do a better job of policing your own, because your cries of 'expertise' and 'professionalism' are seriously undercut when the community helplessly looks on at the few rotten apples spoiling the entire barrel. Admit this and deal with it in a meaningful way or you will never gain the trust and respect that you are seeking in this district.

  6. Just a little back ground on removing teachers due to poor performance. I am sure I will get some guidance from someone with more knowledge than myself, but I believe there is, and always has been, a means for weeding out what some have called " less than stellar " teachers. I believe probationary, as well as tenured teachers, can be let go. Probationary teachers can be "weeded out" without being given any reason. The process for tenured teachers requires just cause. The school administrator is responsible for doing observations and evaluations on their entire staff. If a deficiency is found in a teacher's performance, the teacher is informed and given an opportunity to make appropriate improvements. The administrator is required to make and keep documentation of all observations and evaluation meetings. If, after a number of evaluations, there are still deficiencies in the teachers performance, the administrator has met the just cause portion of the contract and can start the process to have that teacher removed. It is the school administrator who is responsible for weeding out the " less than stellar " teachers, not the other teachers, nor the teachers union. Again, that used to be the process unless it has changed.

  7. You have made some points throughout this discussion that demonstrate thoughtful consideration of the issues, and I appreciate that and give them consideration because you have a different perspective from my own, and that is often helpful in a debate like this. I would like to respond to a couple of points, though. I believe teachers would sign in a heartbeat with a slight change in the current insurance proposal. This is not just a matter of respect, it is financial necessity for our younger teachers with families who, under the current board proposal, will be paying OVER $1000 MORE for their insurance than they currently pay. The amount of their experience step does not cover that, so they will lose money every year they continue to work here. And, the board's decision to impose that proposal means they lose what they wanted most in this contract; a change in the amount of teacher responsibility. If they had come to an agreement with the teachers (who proposed a 2% increase in the amount teachers pay), that change would be written into the contract. Everyone knows that you rarely get back something you have given up, so that would have been a permanent improvement (from their point of view) in the contract. Now, they will have to start over again completely. The choices they are making are a LOSE/LOSE for the district, and will probably cost a lot more in legal expenses.

    As far as the quality of teachers, there is a system in place which should prevent "bad" teachers from ever getting a continuing contract, and the new evaluation law will create a system that would take care of those that may have become lazy or complacent (although I can't say I am seeing any of those), although both of those need experienced administrators to oversee and we just lost half of ours. It is up to the administration to do that job, there is no mecahnism for teachers to "police their own". But, I can't remember the union ever "circling the wagon" to keep a teacher who is a "bad apple". In those cases, if there are any, the union role is to make sure they get fair treatment (a fair "trial", so to speak) which everyone deserves.

    You are right, the respect issue is huge, but not only to the teachers; that is why we have lost so many administrators already. While school personal have to respect that the board is doing a difficult job with little thanks or pay, the board needs to understand that they are making decisions for which they may have little knowledge, training or experience, and have the wisdom to respect the professionals they have hired and accept their input. A case in point is the recent decsion by the board NOT to accept the plan for next school year that was developed by the whole HS staff, teachers and administrators together. It was clearly demonstrated that this new proposal would greatly benefit ALL students (not just a few) by providing over 3000 minutes of extra contact time with teachers, again for ALL STUDENTS. It also provides a structure necessary for the transition to Proficiency Based Education, which is a state mandate for next year and which requires extra contact time with teachers for remediation when students don't meet proficiencies. Since the board chose not to accept this proposal, there is no possible way to provide for that remediation, and over 80% of the students will have 3000 minutes less contact time with teachers. But, there were a couple of incorrect statements made implying that students would get less instructional time (which was only true for the few who had double AP classes, and even they would only lose about 100 minutes), and no one who knew better was allowed to speak, so they made a decision instead that took away BOTH the extra 3000 minutes for all students AND the 100 extra for the AP students. How can this make sense?

    There is also an issue of respect for community members. The recent practice of going into executive session early during board meetings does not respect those in the community who want to participate. I would also suggest that the board needs to be more responsive to the communities by allowing more frequent commentary when issues of concern are being discussed, and answering direct questions that have been asked. And certainly, when the voters have made their views clear at budget meetings, the board should listen and respond to those views. These people are the board's constituents and deserve to be heard.

  8. It's time to get some of the costs into the open. I know what I pay for family health insurance and it is not cheap. I pay almost 500 per month and have a 2000 deductible before the insurance kicks in. Let's here what the teachers currently pay for a family plan under the expired contract. What do they pay per week and how good is the insurance. What is the copay for a doctors visit and what is the deductible that must be paid before insurance takes over. And what is the school boards proposal for both a single employee and a family plan.

  9. John, all approved contacts are public record. The price of insurance, salaries and expectations, such as annual evaluations of professional staff, are in that document. If you get a copy of a contract from another district, comparable in size and socia-economics as MSAD (RSU) 58 , again public record, you will get a very good idea of where the salaries and health care costs to the district and professional staff should be. I would recommend you request a copy of the expired MSAD (RSU) 58 document for comparison to current costs to other disticts. While the results of professional stall evaluations are strictly confidential, you may want to ask when they were last completed for all staff and what the publically available results were.

    The school board has no choice in the health insurance policy that is provided to the professional staff. The Mt. Abram Teachers Associtation dictates to the school board, through the contract, the entity that will provide the professional staff with health care insurance. The health insurance historically is provided by the Maine Employees Benefits Trust and historically, is has been managed by Anthem BC/BS of Maine. MEBT is completely staffed and owned by the the Maine Educational Association. The MEA is the parent organization of all teachers unions in the state. Typically, retirees are also insured through MEBT, though their rates and deductables are on a different scale than active members. There are quite a number of teachers and retirees in the state, creating a huge "rate pool" for rates to be established. For some reason, the rates for active members, even with such a large pool of healthy, low risk members, historically, are some of the highest in the country (12K-15K/ year for a family plan), with extremely low deductables.

    The district historically, has paid close to 100% of an individual professional staff members health insurance. When a husband and wife are both employed by the district, the district typically pays a stipend (in all contracts for many years) of to one of them, to get them both on a family plan. It costs the district less to pay the stipend (normally $2500.00/year), than to provide an individual health care plan for the professional staff member.

  10. Scott,
    As a mt abram taxpayer, I am not concerned what other districts are paying for wages and health insurance. I am only concerned what mt abram does. If teachers want to go elsewhere to make more money and get better health insurance go for it. I have the same option in the private workforce as well. So can someone please post the health insurance benefits that are available at Mt abram and what they cost the employee and the district. thanks,

  11. Tom McLaughlin

    Perhaps a good start to us all coming together on these issues would be to use our real names when offering our opinions. Just saying,

  12. The following link is available to anyone with a connection to the internet. It is the benefit description booklet for the health care plan provided by the MEA Benefits Trust. Read it thoroughly and then ask for the numbers specific to your questions. The best answers would come from your school board members who are fully informed or from the business office. Ask specific to 2014/2015, or 2015/2016, depending on the year you are interested in. Of course the 2015/2016 is for the proposed school year, while the 2014/2015 is the current year.

    http://mydigimag.rrd.com/publication/?i=205520#{%22issue_id%22:205520,%22page%22:0}

    Please remember google works: mea health insurance costs took 5 seconds to type in and only came up with about 575,000 hits in .28 seconds.

    Nothing is hidden.

  13. In relation to bumping within tenure. The tenure comments have focused on how the admin has tools to remove a tenured teacher. It isn't as easy as you make it sound, however to get to that extreme to need to go through that process years of students have been deprived of their education. The most damaging part of tenure issue isn't removal but the bumping that goes on often during the year and as is needed to fill a position. The teacher with the longest time in gets the position whether they are as qualified as other available teachers or not. Over time this contractually mandated behavior degrades the system, lowers the quality of education to the students, while costing the district/school system/tax payers more money for lower quality education. After say 40-60 years of this behavior what condition do you think the school system has degraded it's self into. How much more money can you throw at it to try to fix it without fixing the underlying source of decay?

  14. Response to response.

    I appreciate the calm and thoughtful tone of your response here.

    My overall point is that we have reached this point of 'nuclear option' on both sides, and some of the specifics you mention bolster this point.

    *Both* sides, in my opinion, need to back up, thoughtfully examine where they have stepped off the cliff, and begin to make it right.

    Your words don't seem to include any recognition of the teacher's missteps in this process. Do you feel the teachers are completely right and the board is completely wrong?

    As long as either or both sides continue with this "I'm right so the other side needs to acquiesce, not US!" we will remain stuck in this quagmire, bleeding our good people until our kids are left with less and less competent staff and administrators. Or no district at all.

    There is a legitimate basis for some of the communities resentment. It's manifesting itself in some of the board's behavior and actions. I'm not condoning it, I'm saying now is a time for both sides to cry 'mea culpa'; that, in my opinion, is how we move forward out of this mess.

  15. To try to solve any disagreement, both sides need to be willing to examine and discuss their positions and try to compromise, and the teachers are very willing to do that. In fact, we have been asking for that opportunity in multiple ways (letters, emails, personal contacts, statements, press releases) for the last 2 years. We aren't saying that we are completely right, only that we feel we are honestly trying to work it out (as I know some board members have as well). Even though we made great effort to present a reasonable initial offer (we were the ones who proposed a cut to our salary scale, something that has NEVER been done before in this district), we have still compromised our offers many times. The current offer from the board, in terms of real dollars, is essentially the same one given more than 2 years ago. When we try to find a way to discuss this with the board, we get the same printed rationale from the lawyer that doesn't really address our questions, and no real discussion with the people who understand our district and its issues. One of the major issues in this district is the lack of appropriate communication, and that is part of why so many people (not just teachers) are leaving. We need to create real structures to allow effective communication between all parties; that's part of the solution to saving the district.

  16. And to Mike, there has been very little "bumping" in this district for as long as I can remember. The only time "bumping" can occur, according to our contract, is if a position is cut. There was one teacher "bumped" as a result of the Stratton closure; that is the only one I can remember. Perhaps that is an issue in some places, but has not been here. So many of these statements that point the finger at the "unions" don't apply here at all; it would be helpful if people constrained their comments to the facts of this situation rather than bringing in unrelated philosophical beliefs.

  17. response to response to response

    I know the teachers have compromised. The board has compromised. Both sides have compromised. This issue has become so vitriolic that we are far beyond the point of the 'normal' give and take in a negotiation.

    Take a look at what you wrote. It's essentially this: "Our side has compromised, it's THEIR fault now."

    'We are willing, we are trying, we have made great effort, we were the ones who, we are the ones trying'

    The school board is saying exactly the same thing. It's time for a complete 180 in terms of approach.

    If you are coming at this from the teacher's point of view, how about expressing some remorse to the community for your side's part in all of this, some things that were done wrong, some actions taken that, in hindsight, can be seen now as divisive and unproductive. I support the teachers to a large degree in this but if you are not willing to come to the table and say, 'yeah, we were wrong when we did x, y, and z' you'll never have the support of the community that you need.

    The school board needs to do exactly the same thing, I'm not dumping on teachers.

  18. I think the people in the room at this meeting made it loud and clear that we want a resolution in respect with the teachers contract. The people also made it loud and clear they love Mt Abram HS and want the majority of the school board negativity to change. For three months during public comment different people have stood up and have asked the school board majority to change their ways, it has fallen on deaf ears. The district has a responsibility to educate the students in this district. You can not just back out of that obligation. The towns have an responsibility to do the same, you just can not pay your taxes. And just just can not just shut down a school and not have some serious economic backlash. there are over 300 human beings at Mt Abram HS that their lives would be adversely effected if it was not there. Housing prices would plummet as people would be trying to leave. There is a reason we choose to live here and the schools are at the top of that list. the towns need kids, teachers and schools for obvious reasons. Taxes are not cheaper in Farmington, contrary to popular belief. We have some of the cheapest property taxes in the area. The reduction in revenue sharing by the state has also had a negative impact in our area. This is another variable that I am hopeful our next governor will change. It is time certain members of our school board put their egos aside, get the teacher contract settled. I was troubled when the custodian contract was recently settled within 2 WEEKS. It is a coincidence that the board chair use to be the head of that department when he "worked" for the district? Teachers have been working for over 3 years without one, but the custodians get one within 2 weeks? Also if there is not a budget, ALL schools will be effected, not just MTA. We now have a student activist group who is calling for the school board majority to change their ways, yet certain members refuse to acknowledge them. I have the UTMOST respect for certain members of this board because I know they are there for the kids. I can not say the same for the chair and vice chair. They are there for their own agendas. If I were a business owner in this area I would be deeply concerned with all of this. We need people to move here, not move out. Yet that basic economic principle seems to elude the school board chair and vice chair. It takes a village to raise a child. In our system the way it is designed the towns are responsible for the education of the kids that live there. You can NOT brush off this responsibility. The cheapest and most effective way to do this is to be involved within a district. If a town goes it on their own, it will cost that town more money then you are paying now. Ask Stratton. However I applaud Stratton because they did it for the right reasons, they did it to SAVE their school. The same school board leaders that we are dealing with now wanted to shut Stratton down, so Stratton pulled out to educate their kids K-8 and tuition their HS kids to MTA. MTA is a good school, do not knock it. No MTA, then the population here will drastically decrease and the area needs people economically. We need to think holistically and our school board leadership majority is not, they are thinking of themselves. Time to stop the nonsense and stop fighting this 45 year old battle to shut down MTA. It will destroy the area. Maybe that is what our chair and vice chair want.

  19. I'll be very interested to learn the terms of the new settlement with the support staff. Did they agree to a salary freeze (after calculating in the inflation rate) and a reduction in health benefits paid by the district? Hopefully someone at the Bulldog will get on to this and publicize the terms of the new support staff labor agreement.

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