School notes: Could CRES return to action?

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

Repurposing of school buildings a few years ago was a way SAD 61 hoped to save local taxpayers money.

However, shuffling students has created overcrowding at Songo Locks School, pushing the school board to possibly look at reopening Crooked River as regular ed instruction space.

Superintendent of Schools Kathleen Beecher, along with Andy Madura (director of Facilities, Transportation and Maintenance) and Lisa Caron (director of Special Services) have started an analysis regarding what space presently exists and what scenarios could be pursued.

Casco residents have voiced a preference that their students be educated in their hometown. Even with a modular unit at Songo Locks, the facility is overcrowded, either reaching or near the full capacity of 500.

So, SAD 61 could reopen Crooked River and move either Casco students in grades four and five, or consider a K-5 shift.

However, the building would still be used for Special Services, the current tenant of the Route 11 building.

Some interior construction work would be required, as well as either purchasing or moving back items (such as a kiln, which is currently housed at Sebago Elementary) that were taken from CRES and placed elsewhere in the district.

When CRES was in full operation, the facility also had seven portable units on site. Those units are gone.

Madura told the school board Monday night at Lake Region Vocational Center’s Great Room that because of “little use,” the Sebago Elementary modular has a likely lifespan of 10 to 15 more years. That unit houses the library, as well as a few spaces for health and art.

Meanwhile, the district is also conducting enrollment (to 2023–24) and traffic studies. Parking and traffic have been major problems at Songo Locks. Recommendations regarding possible solutions there will be ready by the middle of January.

In other school board news:

Financial standing: Although SAD 61 finds itself on the short end of the financial stick when it comes to the state reimbursing school districts to help with the loss of money for staff retirement programs, the local system may recover its lost funding because of a bump in economic disadvantage student reimbursement.

Since SAD 61 is a minimum receiver of state aid under the present funding formula (due to high land valuations), the district received zero dollars when the Legislature voted to return $28 million in General Purpose Aid.

SAD 61 had to fund $357,000 toward retirement funds, the 2.65% that the state once covered.

However, Finance Coordinator Sherrie Small reported to directors Monday night that the Legislature is looking to push the economic disadvantage funding from 30 to 35%. The district has a “high population” of students under this category, and would see an increase of $357,000 if the hike were improved.

SAD 61 took on some additional expenditures this year with nine students opting to attend charter schools — at a cost of about $70,000. One student has returned to SAD 61.

Lisa Caron, director of Special Services, reported that a number of students requiring services have enrolled here. Some require out-of-district services, which can cost in the range of $60,000 to $80,000. Caron noted that the district could save a lot of money if services could be offered through the district’s own day-treatment program.

A recent financial audit found SAD 61 as having a “stable budget and fund balance,” Small reported. She noted that the $2 million balance is where the district should be with an annual budget of $28 million, with the threat of curtailments always a possibility as financial uncertainty continues to loom at the state and federal levels.

Diversity, not exclusion: Some folks took exception when they heard two songs to be performed at an elementary school’s Holiday Concert were connected to Hanukkah yet there was no mention of the word, “Christmas.”

“Some of the ladies were so upset that they refused to clap,” a concert attendee told The News Monday afternoon.

When asked whether SAD 61 had a policy regarding music selections or the exclusion of the word “Christmas,” Assistant Superintendent Debra Howard noted no such policy exists.

Concerts, officials say, often include a “little bit of everything” to give students exposure to other cultures.

“Although the word ‘Christmas’ may not have been mentioned, the spirit of Christmas was included in all of the songs,” said Stevens Brook Elementary School Principal Cheryl Turpin. “We strive for a good balance and a cultural perspective. We don’t teach religion.”

Personnel: Robert Tingdahl was approved as a music teacher at Lake Region Middle School, effective Dec. 18, replacing Lee Martell-Bearse, who is retiring as of Jan. 1.

Tingdahl previously was a long-term substitute music teacher at Falmouth Middle School and a substitute teacher (specializing in music) at Portland Public Schools.

There were 15 applicants for the position, and five were interviewed.

• The Richards Family Trust has donated $260 in memory of Sandy Hook School to Stevens Brook Elementary School.

 

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