The Sanford School Committee met November 1, 2021. Committee member Jonathan Mapes was not present.
Chairman Don Jamison called the meeting to order. The minutes of previous meetings were approved.
There were no public comments or communications.
Construction Report: Superintendent of Schools Matt Nelson gave a brief update. A meeting was scheduled this week at Sanford High School. with attorneys to discuss an upcoming arbitration case with a contractor. The recurring problem with the heating system tripping will be addressed the first week of December, as cold weather is necessary to see if the adjustments are effective. The last few items at Sanford Middle School are being wrapped up. The flooring in the multipurpose room will be done during the holiday break. A sewer line backed up last week in the old greenhouse area. It was determined that the cause was paper towels in the line. At Sanford Pride Elementary, the part to fix the dishwasher issue is on order. Maintenance is dealing with a few minor issues. A card reader will be added to the back of the building so staff can park there and not have to walk around.
Student Representatives: The two Student Representatives were not present. Mr. Jamison asked if a third student would be appointed to take the place of Juliana Levesque, who graduated this past spring. Mr. Nelson said he would start that process.
Field Trips: A student attended the Skills USA Leadership meeting in Augusta with Governor Mills.
RISE Award: Mr. Nelson introduced Melinda Williams, who has been nominated for the national RISE Award (Recognizing Inspirational School Employees). The Maine Department of Education, on behalf of the Governor’s Office, will recognize each nominee and put forth two finalists to the U.S Department of Education. Nominees must be classified school staff, which includes paraprofessional, clerical and administrative services, transportation services, food and nutrition services, custodial and maintenance services, security services, health and student services, technical services, and skilled trades (pre-kindergarten through high school). A nominee must demonstrate excellence in: Work performance; School and community involvement; Leadership and commitment; Local support (from co-workers, school administrators, community members, etc., who speak to the nominee’s exemplary work); and Enhancement of classified school employees’ image in the community and schools.
Mr. Nelson called Ms. Williams, a long time Ed Tech at SHS, a positive and committed faculty and community member who “demonstrates kindness in everything she does…students know they can seek her out for help with any situation.” He said, because she knows the students so well, she is able to get them what they need without drawing attention or embarrassing them. In addition to her classroom duties, Ms. Williams created the Cinderella’s Closet, collecting clothing for students who need school, work or formal wear. She has also been a class advisor many times over.
Safe Return to Schools: Mr. Nelson announced that the Maine CDC has made some updates to the Standard Operating Procedures for responding to positive Covid-19 cases in schools. The latest update reflects the recommendation for vaccinated close contacts to be tested 5-7 days after an exposure. It also recommends an optimum pooled testing size of 25 people. The full Standard Operating Procedure is available here.
Mr. Nelson said he and Assistant Superintendent Steve Bussiere have been working with representatives from Southern Maine Health Care to set up vaccination clinics for 5-11-year-olds, which are expected to begin the week of November 8. There will be an online Q&A session for parents, with Dr. Michael Albaum, SMHC’s Chief Medical Officer, and a pediatrician.
Mr. Nelson shared the latest data on cases of Covid-19 and vaccination rates in York County school districts. Sanford has one of the lowest eligible student vaccination rates, at between 55 and 59%, and the highest number of cases (by far), with 146 positive cases to date this school year. Biddeford, a similar size community, has a more than 90% student vaccination rate, and has had only 46 cases. The staff vaccination rate in Sanford schools is also among the lowest in York County, at 80%. Pooled testing is ongoing at all the schools, and he gave kudos to all who participated, and encouraged those who were not to do so, even if vaccinated.
The pandemic is also affecting school transportation. Mr. Nelson said he had just heard a bus would have to be taken off the road the following day due to a close contact situation. (On Wednesday, that expanded to two bus routes.)
Progress Reports: Mr. Nelson said, at the elementary level, the beginning of the school year emphasized the routine of schooling, assessing students through observation and testing to determine where they are academically, and in social-emotional learning. Due to those factors, and the fact that parent-teacher conferences will be held in the month of November, the decision was made to forego progress reports for the elementary grades this term.
Support and Transition: Behavior Coach Kristy Richards gave a presentation. See separate story.
Conference: Mr. Nelson reported on the Maine School Management Association conference, which was held virtually for the second year in a row. The keynote speaker, George Couros, started things off with a positive message about mindset and approach. Clinics were held on a wide range of topics including leadership, innovative practices, policy issues and negotiation. In addition to Mr. Nelson and Mr. Bussiere, Committee members Jonathan Mapes, Amy Sevigny and Paula Cote attended. Ms. Cote praised the event and noted it was good to learn that every school district is dealing with the same issues and frustrations as we are.
Positive News: See separate story.
Reserves: Business Manager Cheryl Fournier gave an update on the School Department’s reserve funds. Four reserve funds were created in the previous year’s budget to be able to carry over unexpended funds to use for future purchases. In the Special Education Costs fund, she recommends putting the unexpended $363,293 of the $9 million budget into reserve. In the Capital account, there is $32,572 remaining, and in the Health Insurance reserve, there is $234,319. She explained that it helps to have money in reserve, because many times costs go beyond a particular fiscal year – for example, repairs that are done during summer vacation. Health insurance is another area where a reserve can come in handy, if for example a single employee retires and is replaced by one with a family. She said reserves are like savings accounts that can be accessed if necessary. Mr. Nelson noted that some of the areas under budget were due to Covid, including the health insurance line item, because many people put off procedures and doctor visits during the height of the pandemic. The School Committee will vote on the reserves at its next meeting.
ESSER Funds: Ms. Fournier presented an update on the ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funds, which are the special pandemic appropriations provided to school districts by the federal government. The Covid Relief Fund is all expended and closed. ESSER I, which was from the CARES Act, has been partially expended, but she is holding on to some of that money as the deadline for spending it, and the regulations around it, are not as tight. The application for ESSER II funds has been submitted and approved. Those funds were to be used for social distancing and Covid safety, so the Department has used them mainly to hire more staff to reduce class sizes. ESSER III has been submitted and is awaiting approval from the federal government.
Pre-K Grant: Mr. Bussiere spoke about an opportunity for grant funding to expand Sanford’s Pre-K program. The money is coming from Maine’s share of the American Rescue Plan Act. He said the goal of the grant is to increase the number of eligible four-year-olds attending high-quality, public Pre-K programming. School districts must use the money to start a new program or expand an existing one. Sanford currently has 32 students in a full-day Head Start program, and two half-day programs run at SRTC with 16 students in each. The Department’s goal is to expand the program to 96 full-day students by adding a 16-student program at each of the three elementary schools, and making the SRTC program a full day. The Department would provide meals and transportation.
If Sanford receives the grant, it would cover $318,000 of first-year costs, which would be used for one-time expenses including furniture and supplies, and the first year of salary and benefits for three Ed Techs. Pre-K requires an Ed Tech as well as a teacher in each classroom. The costs for salaries and transportation would be borne by the district after the first year, if no new grants become available, but Sanford would get a greater subsidy from the state by increasing the number of students served. Mr. Bussiere said it was difficult to figure out the numbers exactly, until next year’s budget is formulated, but he said there is a lot of interest in Pre-K nationally, so he expects more grant opportunities to become available.
Committee member John Roux said he supported the proposal as there is extensive research showing the benefits of early education. Mr. Jamison asked if Sanford’s tax dollars might be better spent by putting an Ed Tech in the Kindergarten classrooms that do not currently have them. Mr. Bussiere replied that many kids are already behind on their skills when they start Kindergarten, and expanding Pre-K would address that, making a smoother transition for all.
Mr. Nelson noted that the School Committee was only asked to approve the grant application, not the actual expenditure of any funds, and it would not be known until February if the district would qualify. The Committee voted 3-1 to approve the application, with Mr. Jamison in opposition.
Resignations, Appointments and Transfers: Among the employee transitions, Mr. Nelson noted that Chris Hayday, the Support and Transition Ed Tech at SHS, will be covering for a Social Studies teacher who is going on maternity leave. Mr. Hayday is qualified as a Social Studies teacher. Doug Roberts, who was formerly with the Department, will be covering Support and Transition on a part-time basis.
Calendar: The next regular Committee meetings are scheduled for November 15, December 6 and December 20.
You can view the complete meeting video on YouTube here.