Wiscasset future of the schools committee prepares to report to selectmen

Fri, 08/04/2023 - 5:30pm

    Kim Andersson’s December 2021 prediction may be borne out this month when Wiscasset’s future of the schools committee reports back to selectmen. It will be the first of two reports and, as of Aug. 3, was still being drafted, said Selectmen’s Chair Sarah Whitfield, board liaison to the committee.

    Andersson, who started as Wiscasset’s superintendent of schools last month, helped the committee Aug. 2 understand special education numbers and other information as the panel worked to make sure the report presented Aug. 15 is accurate. The report will be released in advance as part of the selectmen’s meeting’s supporting documents, Whitfield said. The town typically releases those along with the agenda the Thursday afternoon before the meeting, which would put the document’s release around Aug. 10.

    The draft the committee reviewed Aug. 2, and which was still being updated when Whitfield provided it on request, stated: “The committee looks forward to presenting a second report that addresses additional options covered in our charge to consider expansion, consolidation, or the status quo.”

    The draft also stated “discontinuing grades 9-12 does not decrease transportation costs as all students ride together currently. Given that the discontinuing (of) grades 9-12 does not relieve the district of financial responsibility of those students, there would be no savings realized in this scenario and instead introduce the potential of several hundred thousand dollars in cost to taxpayers.”

    A portion of the draft on potential costs of the status quo versus a pre-K through eighth grade school department referred to sums that “can largely be explained by the need to continue operating two school buildings as well as potential continued costs for special education.” Meeting participants briefly discussed the two-schools matter, with some concurring based on the information gathered the remaining grades could not all attend one school; and with no one at that time stating otherwise.

    Wiscasset Newspaper has chosen at this time not to publish figures from the draft due to Whitfield’s noting in an email, most of the corrections that came out of the meeting have been made, but “we still have some numbers to update.” Wiscasset Newspaper has since asked, and awaits word on, whether specific passages in the narrative part of the draft are still part of what the committee plans to state. 

    According to Wiscasset Newspaper files, residents in June 2021 voted 274-135 in favor of studying the schools’ future, “including all options for expansion, consolidation, or continuing the status quo,” as the warrant read. Selectmen starting planning for the committee and continued seating members through November 2021. 

    When the committee first met on Dec. 2, 2021, Andersson, then a selectman and the board’s liaison to the committee, predicted the town would find farming out its high school students would not save money. “I think we’re going to discover (the savings) don’t exist,” she said then. In that first meeting, no one spoke in favor of tuitioning out the high school grades. Participants mostly talked about wanting more students; how to tell the public what Wiscasset Middle High School offers; and find out what else people want it to offer, Wiscasset Newspaper reported.

    Aug. 2, some participants reporting hearing from people in other towns. Andersson said, “Just so you’ll know, I have been contacted by a parent, parents in both Boothbay and Dresden who want to talk about some ideas.”

    “That’s great,” Whitfield said. Based on what participants shared, she went on to tell the group: “Well, I think we can put in our second report – we don’t have to go all, I mean it’s not meant to be an actual plan, a blueprint for what’s going to happen – we can say ‘Parents have contacted us. Other committee members have contacted us. The door is open,’ type of a thing.”

    This June, resident Kim Dolce asked selectmen to encourage the release of a report from the committee, and to have a public forum. Whitfield said the committee had not met in a long time, but it would, and the report would be forthcoming and likely a forum.