OXFORD — Special education policies, costs and community health dominated SAD 17’s Board meeting Nov. 4, as several issues were presented to the region’s elected state officials. Senators James Hamper (Dist. 19) and Lisa Keim (Dist. 18) and Representatives John Andrews (Dist. 73), Sawin Millett (Dist. 71) and Walter Riseman (Dist. 69) attended to hear the BOD’s concerns as they look towards the next legislative session.

Principal Elizabeth Clarke of Agnes Gray Elementary School in West Paris shared observations about some of the school’s students that struggle with childhood trauma events, underscoring the need for social services and guidance counselors in schools and increased training for staff on behavioral and health issues of student populations.

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 (EPS) 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 for educators with other communities paying higher teacher wages, is penalized in the award of state subsidies towards salaries. SAD 17 is assessed with a “regional index” of 94%, while the Windham school district is assessed at at 108% and Lewiston/Auburn is 98%.

Colpitts also asserted that the state subsidy for special education assigned to SAD 17 dropped for the current school year by $1.5 million unexpectedly, 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.

Among the major questions put forward by Chairperson Olsen were: (1) Does Augusta see a stronger role in Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services in schools? (2) What is being done to address the rising use of “vaping” (students as young as eight and nine have been caught with devices in schools)? (3) 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 of one meeting. But representatives were able to provide legislative updates that have passed, or will address some of the challenges in the next session. The session closed with the Board and Administration of SAD 17 having presented tough issues facing public educators and students alike, an important first step in affecting much-needed change.


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