SAD 4 officials set 2021-22 town assessments

GUILFORD — A day after residents of the six SAD 4 communities approved a $7,448,288 budget for 2021-22, the school board formally approved the votes and set the assessments for the towns during a June 9 meeting in the Piscataquis Community Elementary School cafeteria.

“In a nutshell we’re going to approve the votes for the budget, which passed,” Board Chairperson Niki Fortier said. “The tally was 112 to 40,” she said, mentioning the 152 count represented a low turnout compared to previous years. 

Last year’s referendum, held on the same date as party primaries, had 986 ballots cast and in 2019 251 SAD 4 voters took part.

During last month’s district budget meeting, Superintendent Kelly MacFadyen said district expenses have risen and more local additional funding is needed.

The 2021-22 SAD 4 budget includes $790,307 to be raised in local additional monies. This figure is up by $86,529 from $703,777.

“The budget itself is only up 0.68 percent,” MacFadyen said about the $7.4 million-plus total.

She said the combined assessment for the six SAD 4 communities is up by 1 percent. The $3,903,968 figure is $40,050 more than the $3,863,917 that was approved last year for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

Five of the half dozen towns have increases in assessments whereas Guilford’s share of $1,110,650 is $104,027 (8.56 percent) less. Each community has a proportional local required figure, additional local amount and costs for SAD 4’s share of the Piscataquis Valley Adult Education Cooperative budget.

Abbot will see a $23,682 (3.18 percent) increase to $767,791; for Cambridge the town’s $253,221 is up by $5,230 (2.11 percent); Parkman has a $57,962 (8.28 percent) rise to $758,190; Sangerville’s proposed share of the budget is $793,732 or a $19,008 (2.45 percent) increase; and in Wellington $220,381 represents $38,193 (20.96 percent) more than in 2020-21.

Board member Thelma Regan brought up the possibility of having just the district budget meeting instead of the session and then referendum vote. In her hometown of Wellington, just 15 residents voted and having the polls open costs the town money.

“Ten people who are upset and don’t attend the meetings could really change things,” Regan said.

MacFadyen said every few years a question appears on the ballot asking if voters would like to continue the process of a district budget meeting and referendum. This question has passed in SAD 4 several times with the most recent being two years ago.

In other business, district nurse Wendy Viera talked to the school board about pooled COVID-19 testing, which would eliminate social distancing requirements when students return to classes in the fall — as of now masks would still need to be worn.

“Parents will sign up their children to be tested weekly at school here,” Viera said. 

She said the non-invasive test would be administered to groups, such as homerooms. The swabs students use themselves would be tested, mailed and results known in 24-48 hours. Viera said should there be a positive test then the students in the pool would be tested again to narrow the case down.

“You are going to pick up positives sooner so there is little to no reason for students to miss school because of quarantining,” she said. “Thirty percent participating in this building and 30 percent participating at (Piscataquis Community Secondary School) would eliminate the need to social distance three to six feet.”

“There is no cost to the district directly because it is being administered by the state,” Viera said. “I think it’s a pretty good option.”

She said that pool testing is not all or nothing so should some parents decide to not have their children take part then the rest of the homeroom could still be tested. Viera said a pool would range in size from five to 25 participants.

MacFadyen said the Maine Department of Education is recommending pool testing for schools in 2021-22. The program is being offered to all schools, saying the testing option will protect those students for whom a COVID-19 vaccine has not yet been authorized. It also will minimize disruptions to education and exclusion from extracurricular activities for a student or staff member who is quarantined after being identified as a close contact.

She said the social distancing requirements for cafeterias would be dropped for schools conducting pool testing. “If we do distancing and have all the kids in school, you need to do probably three lunch periods to get them all through,” the superintendent said.

MacFadyen said the DOE also recommends that most students attend classes in-person, but remote learning will still be available under some circumstances.

“They have not changed their stance on masks at this point,” she said, but this may be subject to change.

MacFadyen said information on pool testing, instruction and other guidelines will be shared with families as it develops and the start of the classes gets closer.

She said last year there was discussion on the hiring process for coaching positions and per policy these need to be advertised externally each year. MacFadyen said the 2021-22 winter positions are being advertised now so the coaches can be on the job prior to the start of summer programs.

MacFadyen said PCHS boys soccer Trey Gilbert has submitted his resignation “for personal reasons for work and family,” and the job is now open for a new candidate.

Gilbert had been the Pirates head coach for the past five seasons after previously serving as an assistant.

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