WATERVILLE — Mayor Jay Coelho chastised a man at Tuesday’s City Council meeting who appeared to criticize the city for spending money to help students who fled other countries learn English at Waterville schools.

Coelho warned Bruce Poulin, who attended the meeting via Zoom and called the students “refugees,” that he was going to cut him off if he continued to be rude. Poulin was then cut off from the meeting.

“I will not let anyone sit up there, resident or not, and disparage the work we have done,” Coelho said afterward. “It’s appalling that we’re calling them refugees. They’re children who are living in this community. That is vile language and I will not tolerate it.”

The exchange occurred during a budget workshop to discuss the proposed $30.2 million school budget for 2023-24, a 1.8% increase to current spending. Schools Superintendent Eric Haley explained that the only new position in the proposed budget is for a teacher for English-language learners, which would cost about $125,000 for salary and benefits. Haley said the school district is getting more and more students who had fled other countries and by federal and state law, the district must be provided services. The new position would be the third in the district for English-language learners, he said.

“We’re very proud of the diversity we’re bringing into the school system,” Haley said.

He said the district has been told by the state to expect about 60 more English-language learners, or ELL students, between now and the fall.


The Waterville Board of Education and City Council agreed last year to increase teacher salaries in general to bring them more in line with those of area towns, saying doing so also was important to draw quality teachers to Waterville.

Poulin, who appeared to be sitting in his vehicle while attending Tuesday’s meeting via Zoom, asked how much of the proposed school budget increase is represented by the “60 refugees.” Haley responded by giving the cost of the salary and benefits for a new teacher.

Poulin then asked if there was reason all the city councilors were not present Tuesday, singling out Flavia DeBrito, D-Ward 2, who was actually at the meeting. DeBrito came to the United States several years ago from the Cape Verde Islands in the Atlantic Ocean, off the northwestern coast of Africa.

After Poulin was told all councilors were present, he asked how many “refugees” are in the state now.

“We’re talking about children,” Coelho told Poulin, adding he knew Poulin wanted to talk about “refugees,” but they are children.

Council Chairwoman Rebecca Green, D-Ward 4, jumped in.


“We’re talking about English-language learners,” Green said. “We’re not talking about particular (immigration) status.”

Poulin asked why Waterville is “settling for second-best teachers.”

Clearly irritated, Coelho shot back that the city is not settling for second best, and that is why teachers were given raises in the last budget. Coelho warned Poulin he would be cut off from the meeting “if you’re going to continue to be rude.”

Poulin objected, saying, “This is my time.” He then insisting he be allowed to continue talking.

After Poulin disappeared from the screen, Coelho said he was not letting him “twist” people’s words.

In other business, the council voted to approve two hangar leases and a contract for mowing equipment for Robert LaFleur Airport.


Councilors voted to award a $125,866 contract to United Ag & Turf at 216 Center Road in Fairfield for a John Deere tractor for the airport, at a cost of $69,645, and a large Frontier mower, for $56,220. Money for the mowing equipment will come from the airport solar reserve account.

The council also voted to approve a contract with McFarland Johnson Inc., the airport’s consulting firm, to develop the scope of work associated with completing a runway restriping project with the Federal Aviation Administration and Maine Department of Transportation.

The resolution authorizes airport Manager Randy Marshall to issue a notice to proceed with McFarland for work associated with the restriping and to apply for an FAA grant to fund the project.

Acting City Manager Bill Post said he submitted a letter for a Community Development Block Grant for an affordable housing project at 52 King St. in the South End. The city was invited to apply for a grant to assist Kennebec Valley Community Action Program and a developer to build 19 units there.

Post also said he has been working with the Public Works Department and city engineer to develop a plan to repair crumbling sidewalks on Main and Pleasant streets.

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