WATERVILLE — Sparks flew and anger flared Wednesday night as members of the Waterville Board of Education took another member to task for suggesting more money could be cut from the school budget after the board unanimously approved it months ago.

Board member Maryanne Bernier said she saw it as Superintendent Eric Haley’s charge to go in and see where further cuts could be made to the budget.

However, Haley and other board members said the budget is not Haley’s or the board’s budget at this point — it is in the hands of the City Council, and if the council reopens the budget and directs the board to make cuts, then the board would look at it.

At a council meeting Tuesday night, Councilor Sydney Mayhew, R-Ward 4, said he and Bernier are united in saying they think more could be cut from the city and school budgets. He said he proposed the schools cut $100,000 and the city cut $100,000.

Board member Pamela Trinward was irate and said she was insulted that Bernier would suggest more cuts after she voted to approve the school budget along with the other six members who worked hard on it. Trinward said she was insulted that Bernier made it known at the council meeting, without informing the rest of the board beforehand, that she wanted more cuts.

“To read that in the paper that a member of our board did that, it was insulting,” Trinward said.

She was not alone. Board member Joan Phillips-Sandy said all seven board members took part in difficult budget discussions, as well as discussions about cuts.

“I was really quite surprised when Maryanne said we could easily cut $100,000 and would really like to know, where could we cut $100,000 without cutting people.”

At one point in the discussion, Bernier said she did not say “$100,000,” a figure that Mayhew cited at Tuesday’s council meeting.

School board member Susan Reisert also was angry, saying the board had dealt with the budget over months and she (Reisert) had a hard time with the budget because there were things she would have liked to see in it, but there was no money for them.

“I stand by that budget. I voted for that budget and as far as I’m concerned, it’s not quite bare bones,” Reisert said.

Tom Ferris, a parent and member of Friends of Waterville Public Schools, said cutting the budget would mean only a $13 decrease in taxes for someone who owns a home worth $100,000. He said people’s strings are being pulled for political reasons.

Board member Julian Payne said he had hoped to open the school budget up for discussion Wednesday, but Haley explained to him earlier that it is in the council’s hands. Payne said if the council turns the budget back to the school board, he wants to explore cuts; but Reisert said the budget is as low as the board could go.

Hilary Koch, a parent, said it was inappropriate to be talking about the budget Wednesday, as it is in the council’s hands.

“I support what you’ve done,” she told the board. “I think it’s divisive to suggest that you have not done your jobs.”

Board Chairman Sara Sylvester opened the discussion to the public, noting it was not the board’s budget to change. She also said she supports the budget.

“It’s really not up to us right now to do anything with our budget,” she said. “We sent it to the city and we hope it is passed.”

In other matters Wednesday, the board voted 5-2, with Bernier and Payne dissenting, to waive the school nepotism policy to hire Haley’s daughter, Erica Morrison, as a resource room special education teacher at George J. Mitchell School. Payne cited reasons for his opposition, including that the school principal, Allen Martin, who wanted to hire her, is an employee of Haley.

“I’m not opposed to this, but what I would recommend is that the board change the policy or scrap the policy,” Payne said.

Board members said they have waived the policy in the past. Phillips-Sandy said that, if Martin deems Morrison the best candidate for the job, she has no problem with it, as she wants what is best for special education students.

“When Allen says head and shoulders above the rest, he really wants to hire someone, that’s good enough for me,” she said.

Contacted earlier Wednesday, Haley said his daughter applied for the position and was selected as a finalist. Normally, Haley would be the one to approve the hiring because as superintendent, he supervises all employees; but the school district has a nepotism policy that says a district can not hire anyone within the immediate family of a person who has direct supervisory authority over that employee. The board, however, can consider waiving the policy to allow the person to be hired.

Haley said Morrison, whose children attend the Mitchell School, is a special education teacher in the Messalonskee School District and would take a pay cut and insurance benefit loss of about $2,500 to work at Mitchell, but that is where she wants to be.

Regarding the $23.9 million school budget, Haley said the school board usually takes a second, final vote after the council finalizes a budget, but that item was pulled from Wednesday’s agenda because the budget is not final, because of a voters’ repeal effort.

The City Council on Tuesday voted to authorize the spending of emergency funds to run the city and schools in light of an effort to repeal a vote the council took to override Mayor Nick Isgro’s veto of a vote councilors took June 19 to approve a $41.9 million municipal and school budget for 2018-19.

Petitioners want the city and schools to reopen budget discussions ands cut the budget. They must submit 857 signatures to the city clerk’s office by 5 p.m. July 24 and after that, the clerk has 10 days in which to certify the signatures and if they are sufficient, the matter goes to the City Council. The council could decide to reconsider the budget or leave it as is, in which case, the matter would be put to voters at a referendum.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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