WATERVILLE — A normally mild-mannered mayor raised his voice and expressed anger Tuesday night about what he called blanket salary increases for municipal and school employees in the proposed 2015-16 budget.

Mayor Nick Isgro spoke during a City Council budget workshop at which a proposed $21.4 million school budget and a $17.7 million municipal budget were being discussed.

The budgets represent an increase over the current $37.2 million budget, with increases reflected mostly in salaries, benefits, insurances and loss of revenue from the state. Many salary increases are driven by union contracts.

Eric Haley, superintendent of Alternative Organizational Structure 92, which includes Waterville, Winslow and Vassalboro, was explaining that school officials had trimmed $744,589 in three rounds of cuts to the proposed Waterville school budget.

Isgro asked questions about the number of principals, assistant principals and other administrators the schools employ and then said the raises are too much for central Maine — and that goes for both city and school raises.

“None of these raises are lined up with what’s happening in the private sector. It’s just these blanket raises everyone gets,” Isgro said.

Longtime Board of Education member Joan Phillips-Sandy, who has served on union negotiating teams, said Waterville schools compare with other area schools when it comes to salaries.

“We don’t compare with area businesses because we’re not hiring accountants. We’re hiring teachers,” she said. “In many instances, we’re behind, and that means we can’t get the most qualified people in our schools. We’re trying to keep up, and we’re not there.”

Haley said the schools at one time wanted to hire a woman who said she could not take the position because she would get $7,000 more in the town of Windsor. Isgro was not moved, saying he was not trying to be rude, but that the salaries are out of touch.

“It’s out of control. It doesn’t line up with reality at all,” he said.

The one thing Isgro and others at the meeting agreed on is that the state requires schools to do testing and live up to standards that local schools must fund. In other words, the state shifts costs to municipalities. Isgro told Haley he was not arguing that schools aren’t under pressure.

Councilor John O’Donnell, D-Ward 5, asked Isgro if he thought it fair that the state can tell local municipalities they have to cut costs. That is the way government operates, he told Isgro.

“I’m not saying it’s fair, John,” Isgro shot back. “We just can’t tax the shit out of everybody until everybody moves out of town.”

Meanwhile, Haley said schools run comparisons because they want to be competitive — and they tell prospective employees that Waterville can not be competitive with the Portland market or the Skowhegan market, as Skowhegan has Sappi, a paper mill.

“Our contracts are what I consider to be fair and reasonable for what the market bears in this area to be competitive,” Haley said.

Councilor Nathaniel White, D-Ward 2, asked Haley if he had considered outsourcing busing and custodial services to save money. Haley said he had looked into it.

“We’ve never found it to be beneficial, financially or otherwise,” he said.

Every time schools outsource those services, a personal effect is lost, Haley said. Bus drivers and custodians know children by name, and that is lost when the service becomes commercial.

“There’s a lot about education that’s personal,” he said.

Isgro said he appreciated Haley’s being at the meeting and he was not trying to “rail” him, but when he sees a 3 percent raise putting someone’s salary over $100,000, it concerns him.

“In business there are good years and lean years,” Isgro said, adding that there is no one in this area he knows, other than a union worker, getting a 3 percent raise. But O’Donnell said Haley has a point, adding that he has checked the area, and those are the going rates for people in the schools.

Isgro said the raises are not based on individual merit; they are blanket raises. O’Donnell’s response was immediate.

“We could ban all unions,” he said.

Isgro then said that in some cases, principals are getting bigger raises than teachers, and that is not fair.

Councilor Sydney Mayhew, R-Ward 4, said officials must look not only at the schools, but every city department. He said he knows schools must be competitive, and Waterville has always had a unique collection of great teachers, coaches and athletic directors. But central Maine is still very much in a recession, he said. His constituents in Ward 4 tell him the tax rate goes up every year, and some say they are going to put “for sale” signs on their lawns.

“We have a city of 15,000 people and it keeps dropping,” Mayhew said, emphasizing that people are leaving the city. “I echo the same sentiments that Nick does.”

City Manager Michael Roy said another budget meeting will be held at 6 p.m. May 12, and he will tell all department heads to be there.

“The budget’s in the council’s hands right now,” he said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17


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