Employees at Regional School Unit 5 will be getting a $300 gift this year to make up for hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The RSU 5 board, which serves Freeport, Pownal and Durham, unanimously approved the motion on Wednesday.

“We’ve considered ourselves a leader around the state in terms of our model and bringing as many kids back to five days a week as we could as quickly as we could,” board member Maddy Vertenten said. “We’ve asked our staff to really bear the brunt of that quick thinking, so I know that bonuses are atypical in a union environment, but I would love to see us lead there as well.”

RSU 5 has 408 employees, not including substitute teachers or coaches. The gift — which is made up of unused budget funds — is estimated to total around $145,000.

“This year has been just outrageous, and we did change things on them quickly and sometimes against … what they’ve wanted,” board member Lindsey Furtney said.

In late March, the decision to bring Freeport High School students back for full-time in-person learning stirred up controversy within the school community.

A survey of teachers at the time reported that 71% preferred either a later date or did not wish to return fully in-person at all.

As of Thursday, all RSU 5 schools have returned to five days a week of in-person learning and the district does continue to offer a remote option. According to Superintendent Becky Foley, out of the 1964 students enrolled in RSU 5, 8.4% — or 166 students — are continuing to learn remotely.

There have been 46 documented cases of COVID-19 in RSU 5, 36 among students and 10 among staff members.

“Pretty much everything at every level of our school has been turned upside in the last year and we recognize that that takes a lot effort on their part and they really have stepped up” said Board Chair Michelle Ritcheson


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