School Committee Meeting Summary
The Sanford School Committee met Monday, November 15, 2021, and opened with the Pledge of Allegiance. All members except John Roux were present. The minutes of the previous meetings were approved.
There were no public comments or communications.
Construction: Superintendent of Schools Matt Nelson gave a brief update. School Department officials met with the Maine Department of Education to discuss the arbitration scheduled for next month about unresolved issues with the construction of Sanford High School. There is interest on all sides in settling the claim to avoid arbitration. Attorneys are discussing it, and a Core Building Committee meeting will be convened to weigh in. At Sanford Pride Elementary, there are a few issues with the K-2 playground equipment, a meeting will be scheduled with the manufacturer’s representative to resolve them.
Scheduling Advisory: The Committee continues to make progress at assessing individual parts of the SHS schedule. Spartan time, lunch and SRTC requirements were discussed in depth at the November 8 meeting. At the next meeting on November 30, Advanced Placement classes, electives and more will be on the agenda. On December 14, the “skinny block” will be looked at.
Sanford Performing Arts Center: Committee member Paula Cote said the first performance in the Partners Bank Spotlight Series, Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, was wonderful. Tapestry: The Carole King Songbook is next on the schedule and the Portland Ballet Nutcracker is coming up in December. She said tickets to SPAC make great Christmas gifts or stocking stuffers. She would like to see some of the restaurants in town capitalize on the economic drive of the SPAC by offering dinner specials for ticker holders or something like that. The School Committee’s two Student Representatives, Grace Davie and Bella Farrington, were both involved in the Buddy show working backstage alongside the professional crew.
School Nurses Recognition: Mr. Nelson said Maine’s School Nurses were recognized with distinguished service awards for their work during the pandemic at the Maine School Management Association’s fall conference. Assistant Superintendent Steve Bussiere detailed a day in the life of a School Nurse in Sanford. He praised their dedication and willingness to take on all the extra duties during this time. In particular he talked about their patience leading the administration through the medical issues involved with the pandemic, running vaccine clinics and handling pooled testing, and the long hours they have worked to handle contact tracing for each positive Covid case. He said it is not uncommon for each of them to work 20 or more extra hours in a week. Mr. Nelson presented certificates to Mary Boone of Margaret Chase Smith School, Deborah Toothaker of Sanford Pride Elementary School, Amy Humphrey of Carl J. Lamb School, Katelyn Gray of Sanford Middle School, and Lynne Signore of SHS/SRTC, as well as Melissa Phillips who works district-wide.
Upward Bound: Beth Letourneau, Director of Counseling and Alyssa West, Director of Upward Bound at the University of Southern Maine, gave a presentation on the program, which helps high school students whose parents did not graduate from college to be the first generation in their family to do so. The USM program serves 39 students and at least 2/3 of those spots are always filled by Sanford students. The students are recruited for the free program, but must meet certain eligibility requirements including income limits and academic ability. They are provided with a number of services through the program including career exploration, cultural enrichment, individual support, eligibility for waivers and scholarships, and college life skills such as how to get along with a roommate and how to register for classes. Sanford students are doing well in the program and reaching or exceeding goals for college enrollment and completion. Mia Noon, a SHS senior enrolled in the program, spoke about her positive experiences with it, and said the college tours were especially helpful.
Safe Return to Schools: Mr. Nelson gave an update on Covid statistics across the state, in our community and in our schools. That day there were 13 cases of Covid in the Sanford school system, including 6 at SMS, 4 from SRTC sending schools, and one each at CJL, MCS and SPE. The vaccination rate for eligible students is still lingering at 50-54%, but the vaccination rate for staff members has increased to 84.94% for the district overall. SRTC and SHS have the highest staff vaccination rates at 97% and 93% respectively, while SMS has the lowest at 77%.
He met with a small group of school superintendents from York and Cumberland counties to discuss which metrics might be used to determine when guidelines such as masking might be eased. In their preliminary discussions, vaccination rates and the number of positive cases were identified as the likely metrics that will be used.
Mr. Nelson reported that vaccination clinics for students age 5-11 began that day, with about 100 fifth and sixth graders at SMS receiving their first dose, with Carl J. Lamb students scheduled for the following day. November 22 will be SPE and MCS will get their first shots on the 23rd. The second doses will be administered three weeks later. He noted that many families may be utilizing their own pediatricians rather than getting their vaccinations through the school. [Vaccines for ages 5 and up are also available at the York County clinic in South Sanford and at other locations.]
Joint Meeting: Mr. Nelson reported that that the School Committee met jointly with the Acton School Committee as their agreement to send Acton high school students here is coming to a close. Both sides are very pleased and want to renew the contract. A subcommittee will be established to review the existing contract and recommend updates.
Donation: Mr. Nelson thanked Town and County Credit Union for a $100 donation toward the Student Hunger Program.
Positive News: See separate story.
Athletics Department Update: Athletics Director Gordie Salls joined the meeting for a brief wrap-up of the fall sports season and preview of the winter season. 250 students at SHS and 110 at SMS participated in fall sports. The season was disjointed due to the pandemic, with every team affected by Covid quarantining. He gave kudos to all the kids and coaches for working through it all, and thanked his staff for their hard work, the school nurses for their assistance and the facilities crew for keeping Alumni Stadium looking ship shape.
Winter tryouts will be starting November 22. Signups are still ongoing so Mr. Salls had no numbers to report yet. He said managing Covid will continue to be the biggest challenge. “If we can’t get a higher vaccination rate, it will affect the teams,” he said. A statewide shortage of wrestling officials is another concern. He has received the following preliminary recommendations from the state regarding winter sports:
- All athletes will be masked during practices and competition, except swimmers when they are in the water.
- Vaccination and pooled testing are strongly recommended.
- Schools will not be penalized if they choose not to play other schools who do not have a mask mandate.
- Athletes and spectators must abide by the guidelines of the home team or outside venue with regard to masking and distancing. Some, including the University of Southern Maine, have more stringent guidelines than Sanford does.
Mr. Nelson stressed that athletes can avoid quarantining when they are close contacts of a positive Covid case, if they have no symptoms and are either vaccinated or participating in pooled testing.
Transportation: Mr. Bussiere reported on the ongoing staffing challenges at Ledgemere. If all buses were on the road, they would be short five drivers and two monitors. Currently they are down two large bus routes and two small bus routes. Ledgemere’s manager and assistant manager are driving buses every day. They have hired some new drivers, but have lost others to better opportunities. Parents are being encouraged to transport students to school as much as possible. Some routes have been combined. Unfortunately, some routes are having to be closed down unexpectedly when drivers are out sick or have to quarantine. School administrators get the work out to parents as soon as they know a route has to be closed. Having enough bus drivers to get athletes to games has been another challenge. They continue to juggle the routes around to try and limit the impact on families as much as possible. Mr. Nelson noted that the shortage of bus drivers is happening all over, not just in Sanford.
Homeless students: Mr. Bussiere gave an update on homelessness among Sanford’s student population. Students are identified as homeless if they lack a fixed and adequate nighttime residence. Under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, they have a right to remain in the school they are currently enrolled in. This means that they have to be transported to that district, if for example they are staying in a shelter in Sanford but going to school in Wells or Biddeford. He said this unfunded mandate is a big expense for the district. Fortunately, this summer they were able to get some funding through the American Rescue Plan, which can be used for transportation, as well as clothing, school supplies and mental health supports for homeless students. The grants will also pay for staff training, to be able to identify the warning signals of homelessness. Last year Sanford had 31 homeless students, this year the number is up to 37 as of that day.
Financial Report: Finance Director Cheryl Fournier presented the September 2021 financial report, which the Committee approved.
Reserve Accounts: The Committee approved Ms. Fournier’s recommendations to put money in three reserve accounts. See previous story for details.
Substitute Rates: The Committee approved adjusting substitute rates for food service workers and administrative assistants to meet current market rates for those positions.
Covid Compensation: The Committee approved temporary compensation rates for teachers and ed techs’ additional duties related to Covid-19.
Truck purchase: Mr. Fournier explained that the normal procedure for a capital equipment purchase would be to go out to bid for anything that costs more than $15,000. However, she said in the current economy, delivery of a new vehicle ordered to specifications can take 18 months. The truck that needs replacing is not expected to make it through another winter. Her department called all the dealerships in southern Maine, looking for a used vehicle, but could not find one that they could put a plow and sander on. They located one in Michigan and the dealer is holding it until the Committee can vote. The price is $65,959, which is below the budgeted amount of $69,000. An exception clause will allow her to bypass the bidding process. The Committee approved the purchase unanimously.
Resignations, Appointment and Transfers: Among the staff changes this time were a slate of winter coaching appointments for SHS and SMS. Matthew Foley has resigned as SHS wrestling coach. Liz Dudgeon, Mr. Nelson’s Executive Assistant, has retired, despite pleas for her to reconsider. Cheryl Drisko will replace her.
The next School Committee meetings are scheduled for December 6 and December 20.
The full meeting video may be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DVRjbC-L_hw.
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