By Pam Harnden, Staff Writer
FARMINGTON — The annual town meeting is Monday, March 26 at the Community Center, 127 Middle St.
At 8:45 a.m. a moderator will be elected. Voters will go to the polls from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. to elect officials, then return at 7 p.m. to hear the results and act on the remaining 40 articles.
Incumbent Matthew Smith is running unopposed for the three-year selectman term. He said he feels like he is making a difference while sitting at the table.
Incumbent Iris Silverstein is being challenged by Nancy Porter for the three-year Regional School Unit 9 director position. Heather Ahern Huish is unopposed in her bid for the two-year RSU 9 seat vacated by Ryan Morgan.
A candidate questionnaire was emailed to Silverstein, who has been a director for at least 12 years and was the district’s physician, and Porter, who has also served on the board. Additional efforts to contact Silverstein were unsuccessful. Porter’s replies are below.
1. What do you consider the biggest issue facing RSU 9 this year?
Getting a Superintendent capable of running the district. We won’t know much about that until he can get a grasp of our finances and our faculty. There are some major problems in this district with faculty and bullying.
The other major problem is running the Campus building itself. The costs are escalating by thousands every year.
2. How would you balance the need for quality education for students with the local economy where many are elderly or on fixed incomes?
It depends greatly on who you ask. What appears to be the major problem now is not the quality of education, but the quality of students our district seems to be getting – students with less parental supervision, and less parental participation in preparation for school.
Kids have behavioral problems, and in many cases, are just plain neglected. And the percentage of those kids increases nearly every year. That group of kids is putting others at risk, and many of the teachers are frustrated because their behavior takes time from teaching to correct.
Many of the present directors are in favor of adding many more social workers; and I understand that need. But social workers are expensive. And that increases the budget.
As far as quality education, the first thing I would do is throw out PBE. Its value is being questioned in other states. Some states have outlawed it completely.
For the low-income folks and seniors who struggle, there really isn’t a whole lot that can be done. The State has come in with a program to help those with really low incomes, but most of those folks don’t even own property now. They’ve had to sell and go into low-income housing just to survive. Or they may live in a mobile home on a rented lot that is now exempt with the increase in homestead exemption.
For the rest of us, we have to basically bite the bullet, figure out how we’re going to make some extra money under the table, and pay what we can, when we can. Or just plain go without things we need.
3. What steps would you try to implement to increase the safety of students and staff in the District?
I believe, if you ask law enforcement here, there are already some lock-down measures in place now, especially at the campus. I know Cape Cod keeps their exterior doors locked.
At the campus, there should be a buzz-through entrance lock installed along with several of the other doors in the Tech center.
There are also door locks that have been invented. Examples of these locks can be found online. I have sent links to Dr. Ward. He thinks one can be built in our metal shop; he’s passed the design on to the instructor there. Or they can be purchased for $99.
Purchasing enough for every class room door in this district would be a very good safety investment. Door locks can be installed in less than 30 seconds and would prevent the doors from being opened from the hall.
4. What qualities do you consider important for the district’s next superintendent to have?
Fiscal responsibility. A superintendent should have knowledge of how schools get
funding, how those funds can be used to benefit the district in the most economical manner, and to increase the amount of grants he can obtain for the school.
The superintendent needs to LISTEN to the teachers. If there’s a problem with supervision, or lack of it, with the principals, then that needs to be addressed, not ignored.
And he/she needs to listen to the concerns of the public/taxpayers, and to the parents of the kids he’s in charge of.
5. Over the past few years, the board has raised salaries in an effort to retain staff. Is this important and why or why not?
If anyone took time to ask, you’d find out that many of the people who have left this district didn’t leave because of money. Dr. Ward continues to abide by that theory.
Dr. Ward has pushed to hire administrators at a higher salary than the previous administrator to get “quality” people. From a business model, that is absolutely wrong. You raise their salary when they prove they can do the job. The Board also has agreed to hire at the higher salary because they have no experience in the business sector.
If the new hire isn’t capable of doing the job everyone loses – the kids, the teachers, the district and the taxpayers.
Last year when I counted, there were 12 people in our district that had a salary of over $75,000, not including the Assistant Superintendent & Superintendent. That’s in a district that has median incomes of $32,000-$34,000.
If anyone does any research on this, they’d find that RSU 9 is NOT a low paid District by any means. Some of the richest districts such as Yarmouth, Falmouth and Cape Elizabeth don’t pay substantially more for any district position than RSU9 does.
Proposed budget of $5.63 million
At the town meeting voters will act on a proposed budget of $5.63 million for 2018. It is $90,806 less than the budget approved in 2017, a decrease of 1.6 percent.
Included in the proposed budget are 2 percent pay raises for employees. For full time employees the town provides health insurance, paying 80 percent of the employee’s premium and 55 percent of dependent’s.
Two articles concern economic development and social service organizations. The first asks voters to adopt a resolution requesting that Franklin County Commissioners restore funding to those organizations. The second seeks to raise and appropriate $18,000 for agencies impacted by commissioner cuts in 2017.
Voters will be asked to accept the Dedication of Kashke Drive and establish it as a town way. Town manager Richard Davis said the increased costs for maintenance of the road have already been offset by the increase in property value when it was paved.
Amendments are being proposed for the town’s sign ordinance and land use ordinance. Voters will also decide if a moratorium ordinance on retail marijuana establishments, social clubs and new medical marijuana businesses should be enacted.
Additions to the sign ordinance include definitions for temporary business, campaign and public event signs/banners as well as the requirement that temporary advertising signs be located on the premises where the business is located. Changes are being requested in the exemptions and prohibited signs section. A complete list is included in the 2017 Annual Town Report.3
The addition of an odor nuisance control and abatement section to the land use ordinance will also be considered.
Code Enforcement Officer Stephen Kaiser said farmers using best management practices will be exempt. The new section provides a process to use when seeking compliance.
Copies of the amendment are available at the town office or at town meeting.