School Committee 2/28 Meeting Summary

L to R: School Committee members Amy Sevigny, Jonathan Mapes and Jen Davie.

The Sanford School Committee met February 28, 2022. All members were present except John Roux.

The minutes of the previous meetings were approved.

Public comments

Chairperson Paula Cote read a statement asking that speakers identify themselves, and limit their comments to two minutes. She asked that speakers be civil, with no disparaging comments against individuals or groups. She said the Committee was there to listen, but would not debate or respond to questions. She added that complaints or allegations against staff members are personnel matters that cannot be discussed in a public meeting.

Danielle Moody of Springvale has two kids at Carl J. Lamb School. She thanked the School Department for the app that keeps families informed, and for getting kids back to school full time this year. She asked that, in light of recent changes to recommendations by the US CDC, the School Committee start the conversation about whether masks should continue to be required in schools.

Michael Termath of South Sanford said he was speaking on behalf of the “silent majority” of parents who he said feel intimidated and bullied on social media, and fear retaliation if they come out against mask wearing. He asked in particular that parents be allowed to resume having in-person conferences with teachers.

Ms. Cote read an email from Krista Pelletier, voicing her opinion in support of making masking optional. “We need to start learning to live with this virus” she wrote.

Ms. Cote also described two other emails the Department has received from parents asking for the mask mandate to be dropped. She thanked everyone for their comments.

Communications

Superintendent of Schools Matt Nelson shared a commendation the School Department received from the Maine Department of Education following monitoring of Sanford’s special education programs during the 2020/21 school year.

Committee Reports

Construction: Mr. Nelson reported that progress is continuing on diagnosis of the tripping issues with the HVAC system at Sanford High School. The stakeholders met online last week and plan to meet in person at the school on Thursday March 3 to troubleshoot.

Scheduling Advisory: The Scheduling Advisory Committee will meet this week to look at different scheduling templates. They will also review a potential survey to get feedback, particularly from seniors who have experienced both the five-block schedule as well as the “skinny block” schedule.

Superintendent’s Report

Mr. Nelson thanked Alex D. Cyr Excavation for their help with snow removal.

Student Representatives: John Paul Alexandre reported that spring sports meetings are beginning this week, and announced that the wrestling team had won the Duals State Championships (see this story). Bella Farrington said tickets for the spring musical production, Mamma Mia, are now on sale and students are working very hard to put the show together. Grace Davie reported on the distribution of 140,000 pounds of food last week by the Sanford Backpack Program, assisted by many community organizations and volunteers. Mr. Nelson added his kudos to wrestling Coach Smith and all the athletes.

Field Trips: Mr. Nelson reported that some students participated with other high schools from across the state at a Camden Conference in the Classroom in Orono over school vacation. The Skills USA state officer will be going on an overnight trip to Bangor for a meeting.

Safe Return to Schools: Mr. Nelson went over some of the recent Covid data which he said was trending in the right direction. That day there were seven positive Covid cases in the district and attendance was between 88% and 97% at Sanford schools. He said Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah has been meeting with school superintendents and at this time masking is still recommended. (Editor’s Note: since the meeting, Maine CDC has changed that to optional.) The US CDC, which governs transportation recommendations, is moving to a system using community transmission levels to determine recommendations for masking on school buses. At this time York County is still classified as red/high. Mr. Nelson recommended continuing with universal masking this week and revisiting the issue at the next School Committee meeting on March 7, when new data is expected.

Vice Chair Amy Sevigny said we are now at a place where masks can come off and return to normal, and requested a vote at the March 7 meeting on whether mask use should become optional.

Committee member Jen Davie echoed her thoughts. Committee member Jonathan Mapes said, if masks are made optional, he is concerned about students who will be pressured or bullied to not wear a mask at school even if their parents want them to. He asked for support and protection for those who continue to wear a mask.

Ms. Cote said she also thinks it is time for parental choice, but said everyone’s choice should be respected. She agreed that there should be a vote on the issue at the next meeting.

Director’s Reports

Counseling: Four of Sanford’s school counselors gave a half hour presentation on the work they have done in the past year. Beth Letourneau, Director of Counseling, advocated for an additional school counselor to be shared among elementary schools, as well as an additional counselor to focus on the transition between middle and high school. Committee members and administration thanked the counselors for all the work they do.

Registration: Assistant Superintendent Steve Bussiere announced that Kindergarten registration is now open for incoming students who will be three years old on or before October 15. Parents should call the elementary school closest to their home to get on the list. He said there will be a lottery for slots in the expanded PreK program, and he is working on details of the applications before getting that information out to families. He also noted that Friday is the deadline to apply for admission to the Sanford Regional Technical Center.

Drug Free Communities: Mr. Bussiere said prior to the school vacation he attended a meeting of the Southern Maine Drug Free Communities Task Force. There is currently no funding for the program, but members are looking at possible grant opportunities.

New Business

2022/23 Budget: The School Committee approved an expense budget of $59,258,596 for the 2022/23 fiscal year be forwarded to the Budget Committee. (Mr. Nelson went over the final numbers in more detail at a workshop held just prior to the meeting, which can be viewed here.) The bottom line is a 4.99% increase in net to taxation. 80% of the school budget goes to salaries and benefits. The Committee does not vote on the revenue side of the budget, only the expense side. The school budget will be presented in detail to the Budget Committee on March 10, which may recommend changes to the City Council, which will approve the final numbers before it goes to voters in June. For more on the proposed school budget, see this story.

Financial Report: Business Manager Cheryl Fournier presented the January financial report, which the Committee approved. Details of the report are included in the meeting agenda, which is posted here.

Staff Changes: Mr. Nelson went through the list of staff resignations, appointments and transfers. It was noted that Karen Cheche, a member of the kitchen staff at SHS, and Ronald Brown, an ed tech at the BRIDGE, are retiring. Martha Kane will be the new varsity field hockey coach at SHS.

Policies and Procedures: Following the second reading, the Committee voted to approve an update to the Student Discipline policy that was discussed at the previous meeting. A first reading on changes to several other policies was held. Mr. Bussiere explained that the updates to these policies, which involve restorative practices and disciplinary procedures for students up through grade 5, are needed to align with new state laws.

Future Agenda Items: Mr. Mapes asked for a forecast of summer programming, while Ms. Sevigny again requested a vote on masking for next week.

The full School Committee meeting video may be viewed here.