Members of the Hallowell-area Regional School Unit 2 community voted Wednesday night on the $29.9 million school budget. Emily Duggan/Kennebec Journal

MONMOUTH – Voters passed the Hallowell-area school district’s proposed $29.9 million budget, plus an additional $85,000 for a civil rights coordinator after hearing emotional testimony from the audience over the need for the position at Wednesday night’s annual budget meeting.

Around 50 members of the public attended Regional School Unit 2’s annual budget meeting to vote on each portion of the proposed school budget.

With the $85,000 added to the budget, the community passed a $29,978,620 budget, about a $1.8 million increase from the current year’s budget, and will have to raise $8.23 million in local additional funds.

Adding the $85,000 to the budget was supported by most of the voters attending, except a few residents who audibly sighed when Terri Hewett took to the podium and expressed the need for a culture, or civil rights coordinator in RSU 2.

“I’m a mental health councilor in a different district and see the need and support in helping teachers manage the problem with bullying,” said Hewett, a Hallowell resident. “It’s reaching to be a mass problem in schools and we are seeing the effects on kids where they aren’t able to take on education.”

Deb Large, a member of the RSU 2 School Board, spoke in favor of Hewett’s proposal and shared how her son experienced a racially motivated attack in the RSU 2 schools around a decade ago. She also shared that her grandchildren of color have different experiences at school than her white grandchildren. At the time of her son’s attack, she thought the case was at the forefront of the school’s responsibilities, but did not hear anything from the school district until three months later.


“If it was handled by someone whose full-time job was to work on these (cases), we would know what to do and the outcome would have changed (my son’s) life,” Large said.

Jeffrey Bickford, a Dresden resident and member of the School Board, was strongly against the coordinator position.

As chair of the RSU 2 Budget Committee, he explained that adding the money to the budget does not necessarily mean the money will go toward a coordinator, and he wondered if racism is an issue in the schools, why taxpayers are paying for it.

“All I’ve heard is the amount of racism happening and if it’s truly happening, then why are we paying for it?” said Bickford, who later pointed to students staying home during COVID as the cause. “Let’s remember who kept schools closed — a group of people wanted them open. COVID was the reason for this — we created the cause and now we have cause and effect.”

The cost increases did not sit well with many Dresden residents and one motioned on the first article to cut the budget by $1.7 million, the amount of  the proposed budget increase.

Bickford’s wife, Leah Bickford, who is chair of the Dresden RSU Exploratory and Review Committee, spoke for the resident who made the motion and shared two graphics that she prepared on a poster board with the audience: one that showed the upward trend of teacher salaries increasing yearly dating back to the 1980s, and another that showed test scores in RSU 2 that she argues are too low for what Dresden is paying to be part of the district.


But instead of amending the total budget number, Leah Bickford sought to amend the regular instruction portion of the budget, which if passed would cut the portion of the budget that covers mostly teachers by $1.7 million instead of the overall budget, which School Board Chair Donna Seppy explained and the motion failed.

“By law, we have salaries that we cannot change, we have negotiated contracts, we have federal laws that say, ‘This amount has to be paid and this includes benefits,’ and I’m just gearing up for everyone that the $1.7 million out of that will be in general instruction,” Seppy said.

Before the meeting started, Superintendent Rick Amero gave an overview of the budget’s expenses and explained why the budget went up just over 6%.

The district added positions to the budget based on needs reported by the teachers and administration, such as: a multilingual teacher to help with an influx of students who speak English as a second language; a gifted and talented teacher; a special education teacher at Hall-Dale Elementary School in Hallowell; a part-time prekindergarten teacher and a full-time social and emotional teacher at Dresden Elementary School; two districtwide technology positions; and a multitiered system of support teacher for the district. 

The district removed a full-time science teacher position of a retired teacher at Monmouth Academy, a part-time science teacher at Hall-Dale High School, a technology technician, a prekindergarten education technician and two elementary-level world language teacher positions, totaling a reduction of $398,661. 

With the loss of Richmond as part of RSU 2 requiring the four remaining towns to absorb the cost, most of the budget drivers are uncontrollable costs, including increases in insurance costs, transportation contracts (up 10%), special education costs (up 166%), substitute teacher’s rate (up 37%), and a .25% contribution for the Maine Paid Family Leave Act.

“Over the past five years, we have had an average budget increase of 4% each year,” Amero said. “There is a bigger bump this year, reflected in what I shared and the loss of COVID-era funding and working with significant student needs we never saw before.”

RSU 2 is made up of 1,420 students from Dresden, Hallowell, Farmingdale and Monmouth.

The budget referendum is on June 11 for residents to vote on final confirmation of the budget.

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