Bargaining News

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April 3, 2024

Workers at Child Development Services reiterate their demand for parents, workers to be involved in search for the next CDS director


Nearly six months after taking a no-confidence vote in Child Development Services Director Roberta Lucas and calling for her removal from its top management post, workers at CDS today reiterated their demand that the Maine Department of Education, which oversees the publicly funded agency, include both parents and CDS workers on a hiring committee to select the next CDS director.

The reiterated demand from the workers came a day after CDS Human Resources Director Melinda Gervais informed them via email that Lucas retired as CDS director effective April 1. “We recognize the need to have more frequent communication with CDS staff and are developing an improved communications plan to provide you with more frequent and timely information regarding the organization,” Gervais wrote in her email to the CDS workers.

The workers at CDS took their vote of no confidence in Lucas over a three-week period ending October 27, 2023. At that time, over 550 Maine children, or 18 percent of the children served by CDS, were going without services they are entitled to receive under federal law. As of December 2023, over 60 positions at CDS were vacant. According to the Portland Press Herald, “in the 2022 fiscal year, one caseworker reportedly worked with three times the number of children they were expected to manage: 243 children.”

The workers cited a range of problems at CDS: a toxic work environment, high staff turnover, impossible caseloads, lack of trust, apparent nepotism in hiring and personnel decisions, and the director’s support for dissolving the agency and pushing its state-mandated services onto Maine’s public schools. As part of their no-confidence vote in Lucas, the workers at CDS called on the Maine Department of Education to remove Lucas as CDS director, to create a hiring committee that includes CDS workers and family representation as part of any search for a new CDS director, and to treat CDS like any other educational institution by establishing an oversight board.

“With Roberta Lucas’ retirement, the time is now for the Maine Department of Education to put the needs of Maine’s preschool age children first. CDS workers and the parents of children served by CDS must be part of hiring the next CDS director. We call on Commissioner Pender Makin to include these stakeholders in a nationwide search for a new CDS director who is serious about the success of CDS and is committed to its mission to deliver the services these children need to make the most of their public education,” said Mark Brunton, president of the Maine Service Employees Association, Local 1989 of the Service Employees International Union, which represents the workers at CDS. “Parents of children who receive CDS services must be heard in the hiring process, as should the workers who are on the front lines of providing services to these children.”

Continuing, Brunton said, “The Maine Department of Education must prioritize the elimination of chronic waitlists for services at CDS. It’s past time for the administration to put CDS back on track by eliminating the waitlists, and conducting an open and transparent hiring process that includes parents and CDS workers.”

On Feb. 24, MSEA-SEIU Local 1989 testified neither for nor against the administration’s legislation known as LD 345, “An Act Regarding Educational Policies and Programs,” which would keep CDS intact as an agency but begin moving CDS services into Maine’s public schools.

In testimony before the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, MSEA-SEIU Director of Politics and Legislation Beth White wrote, “We are concerned about the proposed language in LD 345, which would move the responsibility for a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to School Administrative Units (SAUs). We have a number of concerns with the plan as drafted; however, the most serious and immediate question we have is how this plan will address current waitlists. With 550 Maine children waitlisted for early childhood special education services that they are legally entitled to, immediate action needs to be taken to address the current barriers to accessing services. Eliminating these waitlists should be the top priority when considering any changes to CDS services. We fear that moving FAPE to SAU’s without addressing the current waitlists is simply shifting the problem. What is the plan to address the students with unmet needs now and in the future?”

About CDS
CDS has locations in Presque Isle, Machias, Ellsworth, Brewer, Rockland, Waterville, Lewiston, Oxford, Portland and Arundel. Workers at CDS provide critical services to families and newborns through age 5 who have intellectual, developmental or physical disabilities so they can make the most of their public education in Maine. CDS workers provide eligible children and their families with a range of services that include speech, occupational, behavioral, physical and art therapy. Early-intervention services are provided for newborns through age 2; the public education branch of CDS focuses on ages 3 through 5.

The children served by CDS have a range of disabilities, including autism, deaf-blindness, deafness, developmental delay, emotional disturbance, hearing impairment, intellectual disability, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, speech and language impairment, and visual impairment, according the agency’s 2021 Annual Report to the Maine Legislature.

CDS has been understaffed for years and has struggled to fill vacancies, which has increased the workloads of CDS workers.

The services provided to the families and children served by CDS require caring and passionate providers, yet the workers at CDS are often overwhelmed by the high caseloads. Many CDS workers are feeling overworked and unable to provide the services they wish they could provide or they are feeling like they lack the necessary resources. Many are being asked to work outside of their originally tasked jobs as a result of the many job vacancies.

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The Maine Service Employees Association, Local 1989 of the Service Employees International Union, represents over 13,000 Maine workers, including workers for Child Development Services.


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