OXFORD — Special education policies, costs and community health dominated the meeting of School Administrative District 17 directors Monday night.

State Sens. James Hamper of Oxford and Lisa Keim of Dixfield, and state Reps. John Andrews of Paris, Sawin Millett of Waterford and Walter Riseman of Harrison listened to concerns from the board and administrators.

Principal Elizabeth Clarke of Agnes Gray Elementary School in West Paris said some of her students that struggle with traumatic events, underscoring the need for social services and guidance counselors and more training for staff on behavioral and health issues.

Superintendent Rick Colpitts discussed how the state-mandated calculation table for funding public education has posed difficulties for districts with far-flung populations to meet the financial averages that Essential Programs and Services sets in place. First and foremost, some of SAD 17’s elementary schools have larger than average populations, and with a large number of schools in the district, it puts SAD 17 into what Colpitts called “inefficient.” The inefficiencies are driven by district realities that the calculation model does not represent.

Similarly, Colpitts pointed out that the district, which has to compete with other communities paying higher teacher wages, is penalized in state subsidies toward salaries.

He asserted that the state subsidy for special education for SAD 17 unexpectedly dropped this school year by $1.5 million after the district’s budget was finalized. With the district already looking at $1 million in unmet needs, the gap educators in Oxford Hills are grappling with is a staggering $2.5 million, he said.

Among the major questions from board Chairperson Diana Olsen of Otisfield were:

• Does Augusta see a stronger role in Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services in schools?

• What is being done to address the rising use of “vaping” (students 8 and 9 years old have been caught with devices in schools)?

• How can the increasing costs of mandated special education policies be managed at local and state levels?

None of the questions could be completely, or satisfactorily, answered in the limited time Monday, but legislators were able to provide updates on measures that have passed or will address some of the challenges in the next legislative session.


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