May 24, 2019

SAD 34 board approves skeleton crew

BELFAST – The SAD 34 board approved a plan at its meeting Tuesday night to keep a skeleton crew of just five employees after schools close on June 9.

The district has $1.3 million available to spend through June 30, Finance Committee Chairman Chris Dunn reported, but expenses exceed that amount. The district expects to be unable to make the June 23 payroll, and will probably issue teachers and staff partial paychecks, he said.

Dunn noted that more funds are available to the district, but since voters last week defeated a proposal to spend $550,000 from a Medicaid overpayment, the board is unable to approve any other spending.

At the recommendation of acting Superintendent Al Pfeiffer, the board agreed to keep a payroll clerk, a secretary at the high school, a districtwide maintenance employee, a secretary to handle districtwide clerical needs, and a part-time secretary to complete state forms. Those employees will be paid their usual wages from June 16 to June 30.

The board also learned that Pfeiffer had formally requested that Education Commissioner Susan Gendron send a team to assist the district in its financial crisis. Such a request is provided for in state law. The team will review the district’s situation and “report findings and recommendations to the SAD 34 board,” according to Pfeiffer’s letter.

Pfeiffer also told board members that Gendron had approved SAD 34’s request to waive the required 175 school days. The district is closing a week early because of its budget deficit, and will fall six days short of the required number.

In the public comment portion of the meeting, the board was criticized for its handling of last week’s districtwide meeting at which about 1,000 voters attended and defeated the request to spend the Medicaid overpayment.

Denise Lindahl of Northport told the board its “credibility hit an all-time low” at the meeting, and that voters saw board members as “arrogant people with a single focus.”

She said Dunn’s presentation on the spending request was poorly done, and claimed Chairman Kirk Moore was rude when he told her at last week’s meeting that her petition failed to meet the requirements of law.

“You lost votes last week by your performance,” Lindahl said. Some who had come to support the district’s request decided to vote in opposition, she said, after the board’s comments.

Two parents of SAD 34 students echoed Lindahl’s criticism.

In other business, the board sent a proposed media relations policy that would have prevented board members other than the chairman from speaking to reporters back to the policy committee for further review. Some members called the proposed policy a gag order, and said they would have refused to follow it.

The board also agreed to form a public relations committee, but held off on making appointments to it.

The board also modified a proposed policy on substitute pay by removing a line allowing exceptions to the pay scale. One of the causes identified for the budget deficit is that substitutes were getting paid at higher wages than called for in the pay scale.

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