A request for a ballot question to weigh the financial benefits of tuitioning high school students was put on hold Jan. 5 until the Wiscasset select board can discuss the proposal with school officials. A tentative meeting date is set for 6 p.m. Jan. 19 over Zoom.
Passions ran high Jan. 5 when the select board took up the request to form an exploratory committee or ask voters’ approval for one. Former selectman Judith Colby and budget committee member William Maloney made the request in lieu of a petition. A copy was included in the select board’s supporting documents.
The discussion began with Chairman Pam Dunning asking the board to share its thoughts. Selectman Jeff Slack said he was excited about it. “If the select board wants to put a committee together I’m all for it.” Slack noted he served on the committee when Wiscasset withdrew from Regional School Unit 12. Part of that, he added, was to look into offering Wiscasset high school students school choice. “That never happened,” he said.
A meeting with school officials was needed before any decision could be made, commented Selectman Kim Andersson. “This was terrible timing coming now during a pandemic.” She said parents were experiencing enough difficulty coping with remote learning and other challenges for their children brought on by COVID-19 restrictions.
“I want to see our high school students have school choice,” Colby said. “We don’t know that it can be done, or even if the state will allow us to do it. We need to answer the question why our kids can’t have school choice. I’m not an advocate of closing a school; we need to know. People need to have their voices heard.”
Jason Putnam of the Wiscasset School Committee called the proposal poorly written. “If you wanted to look into school choice for students, that’s what the proposal should have stated.” Putnam said his comments were as a parent, not as a school committee member.
Selectman Sarah Whitfield said offering school choice would ultimately mean closing another school building because “the number of students would drop.” Whitfield said she would need to discuss the issue with the school committee.
Andersson’s motion to table further discussion until the select board could discuss the proposal with school officials carried 4-1, with Slack casting the dissent.
The proposed article would form a committee of five to evaluate the financial impact to the town of abolishing the high school grades 9 through 12 and to tuition out the affected students. If the article passes, the select board and school committee would each appoint one of its members to the committee; the town manager would appoint the other three members. The committee would report its progress to selectmen and the school committee every six months and complete its evaluation within 18 months of its first meeting.
Should the selectmen decide not to put the article on the town meeting warrant, the board could instead work with the school committee to appoint the panel, the request adds. The proposal does not name any school district Wiscasset students might be tuitioned to.
Solar project, other updates
A planned solar project adjacent to the airport will be scaled back. Cenergy officials said the Public Utilities Commission will only allow one solar project instead of two as initially proposed. Cenergy officials are proposing inviting smaller subscribers as a means of mitigating revenues lost from the other project. The select board will take up the proposal at a future meeting.
Committee appointments included Timothy Merry and Stephen Wallace to the budget committee, and Wallace’s reappointment to the planning board. The board accepted the resignation “with regret” of Donald Jones from the appearance of the town committee. And Sue Anderson of Wiscasset has accepted the job of tax collector.