PARIS — Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School principal Ted Moccia updated the School Board Monday night on possible ways to recognize seniors graduating during an unprecedented public health emergency.

“There are certainly senior events that we can’t hold because of social distancing,” Moccia told directors. “But we want to gather somehow to celebrate and recognize these students.”

One option Moccia’s staff is pursuing is to hold a ceremony at the Bridgton Drive-In, which has a capacity of 500 vehicles to gather at and would accommodate social distancing protocols.

“We could decorate each vehicle, one per senior and family. Broadcast images of each in their caps and gowns on the movie screen. I spoke with our commencement speaker in Atlanta, who is certainly open to still come. We would return from Bridgton not in a parade, but as a procession. And we could possibly hold a fireworks display at the speedway to cap it off.”

Moccia said he is eyeing Sunday, June 21 for the celebration. For drive-in screen projection it would have to be scheduled later so activities in Bridgton would have to start after 8 p.m.

“There are many details and logistics to work through,” to make it work, Moccia said. “The owners of the drive-in have been very accommodating and flexible about the idea. We hope to meet with them soon.”

A former Oxford Hills student made the original suggestion. Director Kathy Laplante of Harrison said it is a wonderful idea and asked about what needed to be done for state approval.

“I talked to the commissioner about this,” said Superintendent Rick Colpitts. “And she loves it. She’s suggested it to other schools and I’ve talked to at least two superintendents who are considering drive-in ceremonies now.”

Several directors, especially those with students attending SAD 17 schools, were visibly moved by the prospect of giving Oxford Hills seniors a proper send-off. Oxford Hills Middle School principal Brian Desilets added that they are also looking at ways to celebrate eighth grade graduation, which he proposed could include at least a drive around parade at Oxford Hills Speedway.

Sticky financial matters dominated the meeting as 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 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.

Colpitts and Finance Committee chair 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 is an unacceptable fallback plan for deferring critical maintenance.

Even directors who debated against spending $2.1 million relented and approved the project. The measure passed 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 insurance 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 of Paris 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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