Wiscasset Budget Committee

Wilmot: State may withhold funding if Wiscasset does not provide audit

Posted:  Saturday, April 14, 2018 - 7:30am

Superintendent of Schools Heather Wilmot told the Wiscasset budget committee April 11, she was asking the state for more time on a town audit.

The committee thanked her for the department’s flat tax offer. Members had several questions on operations and funding. One question involved the fate of funds not found in either the town's or school department's coffers since Wiscasset left Sheepscot Valley Regional School Unit 12, a process that began in 2012.

According to the school department’s audit, completed in December, the schools are missing $1.1 million. The town and members of the select board have stated in the past, they do not know where the funds are. The town is undergoing an audit. The Maine Department of Education has pushed to find out what became of the funds, and has requested the town’s audit. It was supposed to be finished earlier in the year; completion was postponed to April.

Wilmot said the town informed her the audit will not be completed in time for the DOE’s deadline of April 20; the town now projects completion at the end of June. “I will file for a second extension,” she said. “But there are no guarantees.”

If the DOE does not grant the extension, the DOE could withhold state subsidies to Wiscasset schools; those are more than $150,000 per month, she said.

Town Manager Marian Anderson said the audit problem relates to the auditor and has nothing to do with the town. “We had the auditor call the Department of Education, and the auditor was told that the DOE would grant an extension, that’s what we’ve been told,” she said.

Wilmot said she had completed the paperwork and planned to send the extension paperwork by April 12.

The committee also had questions about the planned move of the sixth grade to Wiscasset Middle High School next fall. Wilmot said the move was to give the schools efficiency of staffing. Middle schools need a special licensure and right now, Wiscasset Elementary School has to maintain that license for the sixth grade even though most of the middle school is at WMHS. “So we can be more efficient, and not hire as many people to teach the same subjects,” she said. “It’s also good for the students for extracurricular activities. They can participate in middle school sports and other programs without needing a ride to get here.”

On the Sheepscot Regional Education Program, a regionalized program for high-risk special education students, Wilmot said the opportunity to offer specialized education and day therapy to the Wiscasset students who might participate would keep them in the community rather than sending them to other towns. “We want to provide this education at home for these kiddos,” she said. “The regional center allows us to be able to afford it.” The program would take students from Wiscasset schools, Regional School Units 1 and 12, and Alternative Organizational Structure (AOS) 93 for a set fee from the interlocal schools. In years to come, additional, tuition students might be admitted from other areas if slots are available. Most funding from the program comes from the interlocal agreement and state funding; the funds to build the classrooms on the ground floor came from a state grant.

Wilmot expected 12 students next fall, but the program could grow to 16 depending on staffing. The classrooms have their own separate entrance, and will address the needs of students with behavioral challenges, including those who avoid traditional school settings due to anxiety.

Another question involved the upgrade of science labs, which have been identified as substandard. Wilmot said a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curriculum has been developed and grants have been obtained for robotics and engineering. “At some point soon we will need a 3-D printer,” she said. Work continues to refurbish the old labs; some were done in connection with the preliminary energy work. Ventilation, including upgrading fume hoods, has been completed, and the propane emergency switch for Bunsen burners was moved outside the lab classroom door.

Because the budget committee did not have a quorum and wanted a chance to review the material, members agreed to meet at 6 p.m. April 16 for a non-binding vote to approve the school budget.

The public meeting on the school budget is at 6 p.m. May 16 in the WMHS gym.