SKOWHEGAN — The school board delivered its proposed $36.7 million spending package for the coming year at an informational session Thursday night but was met with a challenge from some “Indian Pride” supporters who are not giving up on their bid to reverse local votes to drop Native American mascots in schools.

James Macarthur, of Canaan, stood to call on board Chairwoman Dixie Ring and Superintendent Brent Colbry to step down.

It was declaration of no confidence in their leadership, Macarthur said.

“We feel that we were ignored and not properly represented,” he said. “The fact that the chair and the superintendent reopened the issue after the public outcry and vote of 2015 is unforgivable.”

Debate has raged in and out of school board meetings since 2015, when the board voted 11-9 to keep the name.

“The fact that members of the board only joined to overturn that vote is reprehensible,” Macarthur said, adding that he felt Ring and Colbry no longer represent the majority of district voters. He asked Ring and Colbry to step down from their positions.

Asked later if there would be any action on the statements issued by Macarthur, both Ring and Colbry answered with one word: “No.”

With that challenge also came the promise of a petition to oust Gov. Janet Mills from office.

School Administrative District 54 residents read along Thursday during a presentation of the proposed school budget at a school board meeting at Skowhegan Area Middle School. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

The petition, from iPetitions, posted on Facebook on Tuesday, reads, “We the people request that Janet Mills resign as governor of Maine.” The petition since has been taken down.

It was not clear Thursday who wrote the petition.

There also is a rumored plot to scuttle the School Administrative District 54 budget because of recent votes to get rid of the “Indians” nickname for school sports teams and to decline a referendum on the question.

Resident Andrew Bourassa, an early childhood education coach for the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program’s Child & Family Services, stood to offer his support for the board and the proposed budget and implored all district resident to approve the budget.

The public information meeting on the proposed $36,767,926 school budget Thursday night in the Skowhegan Area Middle School cafeteria was much quieter than meetings have been over the past few months, with no chanting or loud placards calling for action.

School Administrative District 54 residents read along Thursday during a presentation of the proposed school budget at a school board meeting at Skowhegan Area Middle School. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Directors voted 14-9 in March to “respectfully retire” the nickname “Indians” for all schools in the Skowhegan district, making it the last school system in Maine to end the use of Native American nicknames and imagery for its sports teams.

Members of a closed Facebook group called Skowhegan Indian Pride, who wanted to keep the nickname, argued their side of the issue wasn’t being heard. They pressed the school board to put a nonbinding advisory question or survey on the June referendum ballot.

The school board rejected that idea April 25, saying such a vote would undermine the authority of the elected school board.

The Maine Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that would prohibit public schools and colleges from using depictions of Native Americans as mascots, following a similar vote in the Maine House last week. The bill is expected to reach the desk of Maine Gov. Janet Mills for her signature in the coming days.

The bill, L.D. 944, prohibits any public school or college in Maine from adopting “a name, symbol or image that depicts or refers to a Native American tribe, individual, custom or tradition” for use as a mascot, logo, nickname or team name, as well as on letterhead.

Brent Colbry, superintendent of Scholl Administrative District 54, holds a school board meeting Thursday evening at Skowhegan Area Middle School. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Colbry said he had heard the rumors of scuttling the budget but said he could not understand anyone not liking the proposed budget, with a local assessment of  just 0.22% over the current year and state aid at $20,753,958. The school board approved the budget April 25, setting the stage for Thursday’s informational meeting.

Colbry said there is no financial reason to oppose the budget.

The district is composed of six towns: Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Norridgewock, Skowhegan and Smithfield.

The proposed budget Thursday night showed a modest 3% increase in spending. That session was followed by the regular SAD 54 board meeting, when warrants were approved and signed for the district budget meeting May 20 and validation vote by referendum in each district town June 11.

The board voted unanimously to sign the warrants and move the budget to a public vote.

Colbry said the overall wage increase in the proposed budget comes in at 2.77%. There are increases in unemployment compensation rates, utility costs, contracted services and Maine State Retirement costs totaling $183,748.

The proposed budget also includes an additional 1.6 special education teachers and four education technicians in special education.

“The big change is that we now know our health insurance costs — zero increase,” Colbry said Wednesday. “That was the big unknown. This is an excellent budget.”

 

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