School Committee Meeting Summary

The Sanford School Committee met December 20, 2021. All members were present.

The minutes of previous meetings were approved. There were no public comments or communications.

Committee Reports

Construction: Superintendent of Schools Matt Nelson reported that the arbitration between the School Department and subcontractors who worked on Sanford High School was held the previous week. Both parties need to file written arguments by December 29. A decision by the arbitrator, which is final, is expected in mid-January. The three issues being disputed are expansion loops, a dust collection system, and retainage. The tripping issue with the HVAC system is still being troubleshooted. At Sanford Middle School, the gym floor is scheduled to be fixed over the holiday break. That is the final piece of the construction project there.

Scheduling Advisory: The Committee met last week to focus on the “skinny block” which replaced Block 5 in the previous SHS schedule. Students, staff and parents weighed in, and the discussion will continue at the next meeting on January 10. The impact of sports and other after-school activities will also be on the agenda at that meeting.

Superintendent’s Report

Recognition of Don Jamison: Mr. Nelson presented a plaque to outgoing Committee Chair Don Jamison, who did not seek reelection to another term. Mr. Nelson recollected how, when he was first interviewing for the Assistant Superintendent’s job with Sanford, he was impressed with Mr. Jamison, who was a member of the interviewing committee at that time. He praised Mr. Jamison’s analytical perspective, dedication, positivity and organizational skills, and said his leaving the School Committee will be a big loss. Committee members Jonathan Mapes and John Roux added their appreciation for his work.

Recognition of Liz Dudgeon: Mr. Nelson also recognized Liz Dudgeon, who has been the Executive Administration Assistant at the central office for 25 years, first from 1977-87, and then from 2006-2021. Mr. Nelson called her an important part of the team, and the engine that has allowed the School Department to run smoothly. He appreciated her multiple perspectives, as an employee, a Sanford resident, a parent and grandparent, and said she will be very much missed. Mr. Jamison read an email from former Superintendent Betsy St. Cyr who praised Ms. Dudgeon’s consistent calm demeanor and professionalism. Mr. Mapes and Committee member Amy Sevigny added their thanks.

Solar Energy Presentation: Michael Bartner of ReVision Energy gave a presentation on the Net Energy Billing Credit program, which was made possible by the Maine State Legislature’s passage of legislation designed to promote solar development in the state. ReVision builds solar farms with money from investors who get tax breaks for the projects. The power goes into CMP’s grid. Large institutional electrical customers, which include municipalities, school districts and hospitals, sign a contract to use the power, and get credits off their monthly bills. Under ReVision’s proposal, the Sanford School District would sign a 20-year contract for the power, and get an estimated discount of 15% off its electrical bills over the life of the contract. The discount would be greater if the cost of electricity rises, or less if it falls, but a discount is guaranteed, he said.

Mr. Bartner’s convoluted explanation of the program led to a number of questions. He recommended Committee members speak with the district’s attorneys, Drummond Woodsum, who he said have extensive experience with similar agreements. Ms. Sevigny asked if the district would need to invest money up front. Mr. Bartner said no, the district would just continue to pay monthly electric bills as usual. Mr. Mapes pointed out that under Sanford’s budgetary system, a contract might need to be approved by the City Council as well as the School Committee. Mr. Jamison expressed concern about possible risks involved, but Mr. Bartner said the only risk is in not getting the credit and having to pay the normal electric bill. He said his company has recently signed a contract with the Biddeford School District. The Committee expects to do some research and discuss the issue further before any decision is made.

Student Representative: The Committee’s newest Student Rep, John Paul Alexandre gave his first report, mentioning the Class of 2023’s planned trip to Italy, Project Graduation’s candy gram fundraiser, and upcoming basketball games.

Safe Return to Schools Update: Mr. Nelson gave a brief update on some of the latest Covid statistics. Cases of Covid-19 in Maine are at an all-time high. Sanford has had a cumulative total of 2,387 cases of the virus since the pandemic began, with another 596 cases in Springvale. Since the school year began, there have been 355 cases among students and staff in the district. All five schools are in outbreak status. Pooled testing numbers are still relatively low – as of December 14 there were 935 students and staff in the district signed up for the testing.

Overall, 85% of staff members are now vaccinated. Mr. Nelson said the School Department is preparing for OSHA to vote on state standards for compliance with the federal vaccine mandate, which will apply to all employers of 100 or more people.

Mr. Nelson said he wrote a letter to Dr. Nirav Shah, Director of Maine CDC, and Jeanne Lambrew, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, about the challenges school districts are facing with the uncertainty around staffing and the constant threat of quarantines and shutdowns. He said the pervasive sense of uncertainty and insecurity is leading to a growing animosity and distrust of students and parents toward school district administration, despite the fact that the administration has no control over the situation. He hopes that changes will be made to the state’s standard operating procedures during the holiday break that will offer some relief. Ms. Sevigny reiterated for viewers that the standard operating procedures the district must follow regarding contact tracing and quarantining come from the state.

Contract with Acton: Mr. Nelson gave a brief update on the negotiations with Acton for renewing the contract to educate their students. Business Manager Cheryl Fournier met with Acton’s Business Manager the previous week and the Superintendents will be meeting soon to discuss possible tweaks to the document.

Positive News: see separate story.

Director’s Reports

Transportation: Assistant Superintendent Steve Bussiere had a positive update to report. Ledgemere has added three new licensed bus drivers, which enables all routes to be covered, although there are still no spare drivers to cover when someone is out. But, he said that is an improvement over the situation six weeks ago. Ledgemere has also hired two drivers specifically for transportation to athletic events, and they have been able to cover all winter sports needs. They are continuing to advertise for more drivers. An activities bus for both SHS and SMS is planned.

Immunization: Mr. Bussiere reported that the new state law which removed religious and philosophical exemptions on required immunizations has resulted in some students having to be held out of school, but that number is down to only a dozen or so, and they are working on getting them all vaccinated and back in school.

Pre-K Expansion Grant: The district has been notified that a grant to expand the Pre-K program has been conditionally awarded, which will enable the addition of two full-day Pre-K classes at each of Sanford’s three elementary schools (see this story for more details.) The expansion will be included in the 2022/23 budget.

New Business

Contract Extensions: The Committee voted to approve contract extensions for Mr. Nelson and Mr. Bussiere through the 2024/2025 school year. The details had been worked out in executive session. Mr. Jamison said he wanted to be on the record that Mr. Nelson works tirelessly for the kids, and we are very lucky to have him. Mr. Mapes added that both men have backgrounds as educators and said Sanford is fortunate to have both of them.

Budget Calendar: Mr. Nelson went over the calendar of budget workshops and meetings. Workshops on the school budget for 2022/23 are scheduled for Mondays and Wednesdays from 4:00 to 6:30 p.m., beginning January 24. After February vacation, the School Committee will vote to adopt a final school budget on February 28. Budget Committee meetings on both municipal and school budgets will be held on Thursdays in March beginning at 6:00 p.m. The Budget Committee will present the budgets to the City Council April 5. The public hearing on the school budget referendum is scheduled for May 17, and the referendum vote on June 14.

Resignations, appointments, transfers and nominations: Mr. Nelson read through the staffing changes. He offered his thanks to Jeanne MacDonald-Johnson, who is resigning as College and Career Adviser at Sanford Community Adult Education, for all her hard work.

Policies and Procedures: The second reading of changes to four policies and procedures was held. The changes brought them into compliance with state and federal law. The Committee voted to adopt all four.

The next School Committee meeting will be Monday, January 3. It will be an organizational meeting at which a new Chair and Vice Chair will be elected, and Committee assignments will be made.

The complete meeting video may be viewed on YouTube here.