Superintendent Jay Charette is shown Wednesday night via Zoom at the Regional School Unit 38 board pf directors meeting. Zoom screenshot

READFIELD — Regional School Unit 38 officials are including a 3.97% increase in the district’s proposed budget for the 2021-22 school year.

Superintendent Jay Charette discussed the initial spending plan at last week’s RSU 38 board of directors school board meeting. He said the proposed budget totals $19.66 million, an increase of $750,552 to the current $18.91 million budget.

“We have reduced it down to a 3.97% increase,” Charette said, adding he believed it will be less than that when the final budget recommendation is made April 14. “I expect that next week we will reduce that a little more.”

Salaries make up the biggest increase to the proposed budget, at $511,610. The funding would provide new classroom and special education teachers, a pay raise for custodians and increases to some administrative staff members’ work time, according to Charette.

The spending plan also includes an increase to system administration expenses of $49,000 for salaries, benefits and workers’ compensation costs. It also accounts for the school board liability, software and specific dues and fees.

Transportation in RSU 38 has been budgeted to increase by $42,875.

Shawn Roderick of the RSU 38 board said he would be willing to look at the transportation budget and add incentives to attract bus drivers. He said there have been issues with having enough drivers to ensure all students can be transported to school.

“I’m tired of we can’t do this, or we can’t do that, because of transportation,” Roderick said. “Are there any creative ways we can attract bus drivers? Hire them out? It’s the time of year you look at those things. Next year when we are back to normal with sports and band, will they not be able to participate because we can’t transport them?”

Charette said incentives for the drivers have been considered before, and he would be open to the board of director’s ideas.

The health center, Adult Education and food service programs are in line for no budget increase in 2021-22.

In the professional development area, the curriculum director will be moved from 60% to 100% time.

RSU 38 has to renew its license for “ALICE Training.” Charette and principals in RSU 38 still have to decide what will be done, but it could cost about $30,000.

The district was able to pay off $433,750 in debt from bonds for projects at the middle school and sports fields.

The board last week also approved the school calendar for 2021-22, with discussion about how RSU 38 should handle snow days.

This school year, the district has operated on a full week, in-person learning model — with some students opting for fully remote learning — and has used remote learning for some snow days.

Charette said a snow day can count as a remote learning day if RSU 38 is able to hand out food to students who need it.

Gary Carr of the RSU 38 board and Charette agreed a snow day would be considered “traditional” if most of the district lost power and students were unable to attend class remotely.

Board members Dane Wing and Betty Morrell disagreed, saying they wanted students to have true snow days.

Charette said number of snow days included in or added to the calendar is decided by the district, but have to be made up at the end of the year.

“I think students should get them,” he said. “If the state gives them, then we should use them and if we run out, then we can go remote.”

The board finalized the calendar with snow days remaining as they have, and giving Charette the final call, on a case-by-case basis, whether the district should utilize a remote learning day in their place, depending on the severity of the storm and ability to provide meals.

The final budget recommendation to the board is scheduled for April 14.

The annual budget meeting is set for 7 p.m. on May 19, and the referendum vote with the towns will be at the beginning of June.

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