PARIS — SAD 17 directors voted 16-3 Monday night in favor of borrowing $2.1 million for critical infrastructure projects and security improvements, after significant debate about whether to defer them until the national economy stabilizes.

Directors voted at the April 6 board meeting to send the proposal back to the Finance Committee for further consideration and clarification. The revised plan presented Monday was pared down from $3.5 million to $2.1 million.

But several representatives still expressed reservations about funding such expensive projects during the uncertain times of the global coronavirus pandemic.

At issue are the refrigeration and freezer systems at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in Paris that leak Freon and contribute to mold conditions, the condemned boiler system at Otisfield Elementary School, and security upgrades and protections at the high school, Oxford Elementary School and Guy E. Rowe School in Norway.

While all directors recognized the need to replace the faltering systems, some urged putting off the security improvements.

Superintendent Rick Colpitts and Finance Committee representative Barry Patrie of Waterford explained that the district has secured financing through Bank of America at a favorable interest rate and would be allowed to defer payments through the upcoming budget year. Repayment would not kick in until two current projects, a biomass boiler at the high school and other energy improvements, have been retired from the books.

Norway Director Jared Cash spoke in favor of approving the proposal, stating that school safety has been a “blistering concern” for some time and needed to be addressed now.

Director Troy Ripley of Paris compared the possibility of system failures forcing school closures to the current environment where students are not in school and work is being done.

His point earned scathing responses from Patrie and others that the current educational experience is not even close to being a sustainable model and distance learning cannot be an acceptable fallback plan for deferring critical maintenance.

The proposal for $2.1 million passed by a vote of 16-3.

Directors also heard Colpitts’ budget presentation for fiscal year 2020-21. The budget recommended by the Budget Committee includes an overall 4.9% total increase, with a 1.6% increase to assessments in the eight district towns.

Colpitts said the Budget Committee has pared $1.7 million from original plans and that a large chunk of the hike is due to increasing health and salary expenses as required by state law.

Directors discussed the possibility of  loss of state funding if state revenues decline significantly, which would lead to the board having to make cuts to next year’s budget after it is implemented.

Director Scott Buffington urged consideration for a plan of what future cuts would consist of.

Patrie said the Budget Committee considered its work done but he expected they would be willing to meet further if necessary.

The board will vote on the budget at its June 1 meeting.


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