Regional School Unit 22 officials delayed adopting a proposed $30 million budget for 2016-17 on May 4 to further consider the numbers while members of the public beseeched them to be more transparent with how tax dollars are spent.

The proposed budget of $30,081,235.89 has decreased slightly because the district was recently informed there would not be an increase in healthcare premiums. Officials budgeted $211,000 to cover any increase in premiums and that money was instead redistributed to restore funding to athletic programs and to lower assessments to the towns.

Some of the funds will also be used to pay for textbooks at Hampden Academy, curriculum textbooks, supplies at Reeds Brook Middle School and Samuel L. Wagner Middle School, special education contracted services and anticipated personnel and student needs.

Increased costs related to special education are driving much of the increase in the budget, Assistant Superintendent Genest Emil said. More than 40 additional special education students have enrolled in the district over a two-year period and some of those students have significant handicaps, Emil said, that in some cases require one-on-one attention.

As proposed, the budget represents a 1.89-percent increase and the local share will increase 2.8 percent. If approved, Frankfort's local assessment would be $813,284.60. Hampden's assessment would be $6,291,420.26, and Newburgh would contribute $1,055,312. Winterport's share would be $2,578,119.58.

“I think this is a good budget with the loss of state money and the increase of $500,000 on special ed needs, which is desperately needed, and that we have also acknowledged our teacher salary increases in this budget,” Emil said.

He also pointed out the budget doesn't eliminate any education programs, and that no one is losing his or her job.

Director Rob Frank, who also serves on the district's budget committee, addressed concerns from town officials and residents about how contingency is factored into the budget. For about the past 10 years, the district has added contingency into individual line items but that practice was criticized by some in attendance as lacking transparency.

In response to those concerns, district officials said they would redesign the way contingency lines are shown in the budget to make it clearer how that money is being used.

A suggestion was also made to publish more information about the budget on the district's website.

The board was scheduled to meet May 11 to vote on adopting the budget.

A district budget meeting is scheduled for June 9. The referendum vote will be held June 14.

TRI-22 labor complaint

Board of Directors Chairman Niles Parker addressed a complaint recently filed by TRI-22, the teachers union in Regional School Unit 22, with Maine Labor Relations Board alleging the district has failed to pay teachers merit pay owed to them under the terms of an expired contract.

The complaint is the newest development in the negotiation process between teachers and district officials regarding the terms of a new three-year contract.

“While we are willing to seek compromise in the bargaining proposal, we will defend ourselves against the association's allegations the board violated the bargaining law,” Parker said, reading from a prepared statement, a copy of which he provided to The Republican Journal. “Recently, the association filed a complaint the board has not paid them merit for the 2015-2016 year. The 2015-2016 year is the first year of the contract currently in negotiations. At the request of the association, merit will not be included in a new contract. We remain puzzled at the recent demand for merit pay when removing merit pay was central to negotiations.”

Parker said the board is proposing a 9.2-percent salary increase over the three-year term of the contract. In addition, 100 percent of employees' health insurance and 70 percent of additional dependent costs will be covered. He said officials are also willing to drop a proficiency requirement.

The board had originally proposed that teachers achieve a rating of proficient in classroom management based on the district's evaluation tool in order to advance a step on the salary scale.

“Negotiations [are] a compromise. We listened to and responded to the Association's requests and have offered a proposal, which moves us toward more competitive compensation, improved salary structure and has removed merit pay,” Parker said. “We ask that the association comes to the table with a willingness to settle this contract.”

In other business:

Parker was re-elected as Board of Directors chairman. Karen Hawkes was elected as vice chairman.

Parker said the board is also concerned about the number of resignations/retirements in the district. During the May 4 meeting, Superintendent Richard Lyons read the names of several staff members who are leaving the district.