REGION — On Sunday, Nov. 8, Regional School Unit 9 schools were decorated with posters and signs by parents to show their support for staff working during the pandemic. Many parents expressed the desire to show support after a union-initiated vote revealed that over 300 RSU 9 staff members have no confidence in Superintendent Tina Meserve’s leadership.

“I had a pretty good feeling that if 90% of our staff was able to reach out and say they didn’t have a vote of confidence, then its not just teachers that are hurting,” Liz Tracy said on Sunday at the Cape Cod Hill Elementary School’s (CCHS) parking lot in New Sharon.  

Schools throughout Regional School Unit 9 were decorated with support signs for staff on Sunday, Nov. 8. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal

On Monday morning, RSU 9 staff had posted messages on the Parents and Community Members of RSU 9 Facebook page in response to the signs.

“We are certainly feeling the love here at CCHS! You guys are awesome and thank you for not only standing behind the teachers but for standing behind the support staff as well,” bus driver Alycia Stevens posted.

CCHS kindergarten teacher Courtney Schools also posted with enthusiasm to the signs.

“I’m so excited to drive in tomorrow,” Schools said on Facebook.

As Tracy and Sara Abbott Pinkham, another CCHS parent, pushed stakes in the ground to tape messages of heartfelt thanks, they discussed the tumultuous state of affairs in their children’s district. They fear RSU 9 teachers who are currently working without contracts will leave for other districts.

“We have a lot of young teachers too so we don’t really want to lose that fresh blood, especially if they see other districts are able to pay better and be more attentive to their staff,” Abbott Pinkham said.

Parents Liz Tracy, left, and Sara Abbott Pinkham, right, hang a sign of support for Regional School Unit 9 staff at the Cape Cod Hill Elementary School in New Sharon on Sunday, Nov. 8. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal

According to the Maine Education Association (MEA), the minimum salary at Farmington K-12 schools with a Bachelor’s Degree is $34,900 and with a Master’s Degree, $36,900. Both base salaries are below the living teacher wage declared to be $40,000 by Governor Janet Mills.  

While RSU 9 teacher salaries are comparable to neighboring counties such as Oxford and Androscoggin, parents fear that the reportedly low morale in schools due to Meserve’s leadership could cause an exodus.

According to the Mt. Blue Education Association, grievances towards Meserve include a disrespectful tone of communication, a lack of willingness to truly collaborate with a range of stakeholders, micromanaging tasks, unilaterally changing long-standing leave practices, and creating a division between the RSU 9 board of directors and the staff.

Tracy said that she has also experienced difficulties communicating with Meserve when CCHS’s ventilation system was reportedly not functioning properly. Both Tracy and Abbott Pinkham said that their children were requesting winter coats and gloves to bring with them to school in early October because teachers were leaving the windows open and had fans on in the classrooms.

“They kept saying its cold, the windows are open,” Abbott Pinkham said.

Teachers were leaving the windows open and had fans running out of fear that the indoor air quality and circulation was unsafe, especially during the pandemic.

After Tracy did not receive a memo in regards to the ventilation system as promised by Meserve at the Oct. 13 Board meeting, Tracy emailed Meserve for information. Meserve did not respond, but issued a memo on Oct. 27, over a week later, stating that the CCHS ventilation system is exchanging air at a rate that exceeds the recommendations and is functioning at full capacity.

“I don’t understand why we waited so long for them to come out and say, ‘no, it’s at 100 percent.’ Why would you go through opening the windows? Why would you go through putting fans in the windows in every classroom if you’re going to turn around two months later, three months later and say, ‘we’re actually running at 100 percent, there’s nothing to worry about?'” Tracy said.

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