State extends job bank deadline to next week

Maine labor officials are giving more than 2,200 people until next week to join the Maine Job Bank in order to continue getting unemployment benefits.

The change coincides with a $1.9 million upgrade to the unemployment computer system that prompts residents to register for the job bank as they file an unemployment claim. Department of Labor spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz said the current system “doesn’t force you to finish” registering with the job bank.

The change is expected to go into effect around Feb. 5. The blizzard that shut down state government on Tuesday pushed back the original rollout that was set for Thursday.

More than 18,000 people in Maine receive unemployment benefits and the vast majority of them are connected with the job bank.

Rights Commission rules landlords discriminated

The Maine Human Rights Commission has ruled that Norridgewock landlords discriminated against a former tenant by trying to evict her after her daughter visited with her service dog.

The commission also found by a 5-0 vote on Monday that Oakley and Donna Brann retaliated against Dawn Zammuto for filing a complaint with the commission.

The rulings mean a 90-day conciliation will begin, during which the parties can attempt to settle the matter out of court.

Zammuto says she was threatened with eviction in August when her disabled daughter visited with her service dog for five days.

The Branns said she broke the lease’s no-pets clause.

The Branns’ attorney disagreed with the decision, saying the original eviction order was withdrawn. They evicted Zammuto later for non-payment of rent.

Augusta school budget proposes $1.5 million hike

The initial school budget proposed by Augusta administrators is up about $1.5 million, or 5.5 percent, over the current year’s budget and would require 7 percent more money from taxpayers.

It is unlikely the budget will be approved as proposed because it will be reviewed by both school board members and city councilors before ultimately going to voters in a June referendum.

Board Chairwoman Kimberly Martin said Superintendent James Anastasio’s “responsibility is to put together a recommended budget, and we’ll be going through those recommendations, looking at needs and priorities. There will be changes.”

Anastasio and business manager Kathy Casparius noted there are numerous unknowns, including the effect of sweeping state budget changes proposed by Gov. Paul LePage in state aid to local schools and ongoing contract negotiations with teachers and three other groups of union-represented employees.


Crews from five towns help to put out home fire

Fire crews from five towns responded to a structure fire in the Lincoln County town of Whitefield on Tuesday evening.

An emergency dispatcher for the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office said the home at 452 Mills Road was fully in flames by the time firefighters arrived. The fire was reported around 4:30 p.m.

There were no reports of injuries at the time, and the dispatcher said that fire crews would likely be on the scene for several hours.


School board balks at arbitrator’s salary guidance

An arbitration panel has made recommendations for resolving key issues in a long-festering contract dispute between the School Administrative District 58 board and its teachers union, but the school board has balked at accepting the arbitrators’ recommendation for health insurance benefits.

The Mount Abram Teachers Association has been without a contract since June 30, 2013, and talks have bogged down because of pay, health insurance benefits and procedures to be followed in case of teacher layoffs in the district.

After teachers worked for two school years without a contract, the dispute went to a three-member arbitration panel last July. The panel issued a confidential report last month that recommended no pay raise for the 2012-13 school year, 2 percent for 2013-14 and 2.5 percent for 2014-15.

On Tuesday, the school board revealed the arbitration panel’s recommendations and said it considers that pay package acceptable, provided that it limits retroactive pay for the 2014 and 2015 school years to teachers who are still employed by the district on the date the new contract is signed.

Teachers in the district, which includes Avon, Phillips, Kingfield and Strong, have been working on a salary freeze, and the district has operated under the old contract.

The Mount Abram Teachers Association president has said the deadlock has left frustrations high and morale low at the Franklin County school district, which has a $9 million budget this year. Association officials were unavailable Tuesday.


Select Board accepts town manager’s resignation

Stefan Pakulski will end his tenure as town manager after Feb. 6.

The Readfield Select Board voted 5-0 Monday to accept his resignation, two weeks after rejecting it 3-2.

“We all wished him well in his new endeavors, and we agreed to work together through the transition,” Select Board Chairwoman Sue Reay said Tuesday.

She said Pakulski’s resignation was revisited briefly during the public portion of the board’s regular meeting Monday night, and the vote followed an executive session.

Pakulski, 56, of Wayne, has been Readfield’s town manager since November 2003. He submitted his resignation letter Jan. 12, citing “personal reasons.”

Under the terms of his contract, Pakulski’s benefits and pay will continue for the next six months, Reay said. Pakulski’s 18-month contract runs through July 30, and he earned $63,386 the first year.

Reay said the board intends to meet on Monday to discuss how to move forward to seek a new manager and how to manage the town during the transition.

– From staff and news services.