PARIS — On Monday night, Maine School Administrative District 17 voted in favor of a proposed $47 million budget for 2022-23 and approved the appointment of Paul Bickford as Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School principal. The votes for both measures were unanimous.

Oxford Hills School District Interim Superintendent Heather Manchester, left, and Chief Financial Officer Carrie Colley summarize the $43.4 proposed school budget to the school board Monday night. Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat

The budget will be presented to voters at a public meeting scheduled for June 9 at the high school, and a referendum vote is set for June 14. If approved, school spending will increase by $3,480,796 over the current year.

The 7.9% cost increase to run schools in Oxford Hills is largely due to increasing fixed costs, including expected raises for teachers, rising electricity, transportation and heating fuel expenses, and a bump in health insurance districtwide. The higher budget will largely be covered by decreasing mill rates and a larger-than-expected carryover from the 2021-22 budget. Additionally, the district learned last July after its 2021-22 budget was finalized that general purpose aid from the state of Maine would be $1.2 million more than expected; board directors voted to apply that amount to this coming fiscal year.

Director Scott Buffington of Paris asked what taxpayers could expect to happen next year, given that COVID-19 support programs will expire after that time.

Chief Financial Officer Carrie Colley and budget committee chairman Robert Jewell cautioned that Oxford Hills could be looking at a more painful increase of $3 million or more next year. Federal funding helped cover programs that have helped bring the district be more in line with student needs in areas like 1:1 devices. Early on in the pandemic laptops and tablets were in short supply and students often had to share them with siblings during periods of remote learning.

According to Colley and interim Superintendent Heather Manchester, the budget was built on four strategic pillars: supporting healthy and resilient students, maximize facilities to support learning, recruit and grow talent, and encourage rigorous, relevant and responsive learning.

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To achieve health and resilience, a multi-tiered systems of support coordinator will be hired to work at Oxford Hills Middle School. It will be a one-year pilot position starting in the next academic year. A drug and alcohol counselor will transition from a contracted part-time position to a full-time employee for OHMS and Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School, and a behavior interventionist position will be added. Middle school athletics will expand to include boys and girls lacrosse teams.

The school district will replace the degrading portable classroom unit at Otisfield Community School and also hire a second shift maintenance employee. A new instructional coach position will be shared between Agnes Gray Elementary School in West Paris and Hebron Station School. Both schools are the only ones in MSAD 17 that do not already have one and both will have a number of new educators on staff. Other new positions include social studies teachers at OHMS and an elementary art teacher.

Additionally, Oxford Hills/Nezinscot and Maine Vocation Region #11 will be granted increased shares of their funding allocations.

While the overall local assessment will not increase, Harrison’s share will increase by 3.35%, West Paris’ by 1.74%, Hebron’s by 0.54% and Norway’s by 0.69%. Otisfield, Oxford, Paris and Waterford will see decreases of 0.99% to 2.0%.

Kitty Winship, director from Waterford and chairperson of the personnel committee, told the board that the committee was recommending that Bickford replace retiring principal Ted Moccia, effective July 1.

Oxford Hills Tech School Director Paul Bickford was named as Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School’s principal at Monday evening’s board of directors meeting. Brewster Burns photo

“We met earlier this evening,” Winship said. “We voted unanimously to recommend Paul as OHCHS principal. We talked about how impressed everyone was with him during his interview. It was a strong field of applicants, but Paul had a strong vision of how to move the school forward. He is the current director of the tech school, and he has moved up through the ranks as a math teacher, in guidance, and so on. We feel he is the best fit for the position.”

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The only question on the hire came from Jewell, who conceded he was sure Bickford would have the answer but thought it still needed to be asked.

“Paul, you have had a lot of time in this district and have formed close relationships with co-workers,” he said, addressing Bickford directly. “When negative behaviors come up, do you think you’ll be able to effectively manage those behaviors, taking into consideration your friendships with those people?”

Bickford responded that having worked as an administrator within Oxford Hills since 2004 he has established professional relationships with staff members.

“Besides that, it’s really about supporting people professionally through supervision and evaluation,” he said. “And then doing my job as a leader when those times come up when personnel need follow through on behaviors. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been here 25 years. My role is as the building leader and working with staff members” as their leader.

Directors then voted unanimously to approve the personnel committee’s recommendation to appoint Bickford as the district’s new high school principal.


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