Building Committee takes Snow School ‘Option C’ off the table

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

FRYEBURG — While many questions remain regarding how SAD 72 should proceed in building a new C.A. Snow School, directors John Carter of Lovell and Steve Dupuis of Stow have heard one very loud and clear message.

People do not want consolidation!

A recent survey backs up comments several directors have heard on whether SAD 72 should support a project that would move all elementary school students to one campus at Molly Ockett Middle School in Fryeburg.

Option C would close “community schools” in Lovell and Denmark, while also eliminating all portable classroom units. While the state’s Department of Education has been a major driver behind regionalization and consolidation efforts over the past five years, SAD 72 taxpayers want no part of it, as Carter found when he conducted his own informal poll.

“Twenty-eight of them said not only ‘no,’ but ‘bleeping no.’ Every single one of them took me to the woodshed for agreeing to even consider the issue of consolidation,” Carter said during last Wednesday’s school board meeting.

It appears SAD 72 officials are also moving away from the super campus idea. Ad Hoc Building Committee chairman James Stacy informed the school board that the group met the previous week and decided to take Option C off the table. The committee plans to focus on Option B.

The SAD 72 board, however, has yet to formally act on which course to pursue. However, Superintendent of Schools Jay Robinson suspects Option C is off the table after hearing such a resounding negative response from the public. Robinson said exploring possible long-term savings a consolidated elementary school campus might bring to beleaguered taxpayers was simply due diligence.

“Certainly, we had to consider it. Five or 10 years from now, I don’t want to hear taxpayers asking why we didn’t look into it,” Robinson said.

Option B calls for the construction of a new C.A. Snow School on the Molly Ockett site. The project would also include an addition and improvements to the middle school, thus eliminating the need for portable units. It could also include space for the Central Office, which is currently housed in “an aging building” on the Snow School grounds (“It doesn’t make financial sense to spend exorbitant amounts of money fixing up a building that will continue to present costly issues moving forward,” school officials said in a Building Project Q & A sent to district residents).

Although Dupuis, SAD 72 board chairman Bob Steller, and others have heard strong comments against any consolidation, it may need to happen.

If the state stays firm on the idea of eliminating portables district-wide as part of the construction project then SAD 72 would face a space problem at Denmark Elementary. While the school could accommodate the fourth grade, the building — as it is presently constituted — could not also house Grade 5.

Unless taxpayers want to dig deeper to pay for a permanent addition at Denmark Elementary, SAD 72 officials would look to move all fifth grades to Molly Ockett. Dupuis questioned whether the school board was listening that residents want no consolidation.

New Suncook School Principal Rhonda Poliquin said there would be no problem utilizing space created if the fifth graders were moved to Molly Ockett.

Director Norma Snow asked whether SAD 72 was under any time limit regarding when it would take a specific “option” to a public referendum vote. Superintendent Robinson responded, “No,” but did say it would be in the best interest of Snow School students and faculty to move forward in a timely fashion.

Change the formula

When the state reversed field from paying 100% of the Snow School project to 66%, the remaining 34% of the estimated $20 million project price tag would mainly fall to four of the seven towns in SAD 72.

Taxpayers cried foul, believing that if the state would no longer pick up the tab, the local share should be shared equally by all towns.

The state funding formula sides heavily on property valuation. In neighboring SAD 61, just Casco is eligible for state aid — Bridgton, Naples and Sebago are now “nonreceivers” due to high town valuations, driven mainly by lakefront  properties.

The same is occurring in SAD 72, where towns like Lovell, Denmark, Stoneham and Sweden carry high state valuations — thus no state aid, which costs are then borne by local taxpayers.

SAD 72 will investigate the possibility of gaining legislative approval to change the formula so all seven towns will share in the Snow School project costs.

A committee will be formed consisting of two representatives from each town, along with a school board member from each community. The group will meet with a state facilitator. Robinson will also attend the session to provide budgetary information.

“Once a facilitator is named, we’ll give the towns a 15-day notice of a meeting date, at which time, town officials can select their representatives,” Robinson said.

The group could meet once or hold additional discussions. Then, the question would be brought to voters. If approved, the move would then require legislative approval.

Survey results

Results from the Building Project survey include:

• 420 surveys were returned. Some of those represented multiple people within the same household. Those responding: 132 Fryeburg, 115 Lovell, 57 Denmark, 54 Brownfield, 24 Sweden, 20 Stow, 18 Stoneham.

Over 4,600 surveys were mailed out to the seven SAD 72 school district towns, and it was also posted online.

• 72% of respondents support a state-funded building project. 301 Yes, 119 No.

• The most important factor to respondents was “keeping community schools open.” From most to least important factors were:

— Keeping community schools open (160/38%)

— Achieving equality of educational programming and facilities for all students K-8 (78/19%)

— Reducing my taxes (70/17%)

— The impact of options on children and families (56/13%)

— The financial impact in Denmark, Lovell, Stoneham and Sweden (38/9%)

— School safety through the elimination of portable classrooms (18/4%)

• Would you support a state-funded (currently 66%) building project at referendum that replaces the Snow School but keeps New Suncook and Denmark open? 269 Yes, 151 No.

• If you answered “yes” to the previous question, does that mean you would be willing to pay more in educational costs to maintain three elementary schools? 207 Yes, 78 No.

• Would you support a building project at referendum that would achieve cost savings if it meant closing one or more elementary schools and having all students on one campus? 159 Yes, 261 No.

In other news

Directors agreed to allow PTOs to sell “cookie dough” as part of fundraisers. A Snow School PTO member informed directors that Principal Mark Schrader had initially informed them they could not sell the item because it was against the district’s Health and Wellness policy.

Director Kathiann Shorey told the board that the Health and Wellness Team spent many hours working on a policy that included nutritional values of food to be served and sold at schools — following USDA guidelines.

The policy, however, does not ban the sale of such items like cookie dough outside of the school buildings. So, directors agreed to allow the sale of cookie dough as long as sales did not take place on school properties.

• SAD 72 will apply to the state to purchase three new buses, with the hopes of at least landing two. One bus is in dire need of replacement, topping 180,000 miles.

• The next school board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 11, at 7 p.m. at Molly Ockett Middle School.

 

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