School Board allocates additional funds in Freeport, Pownal, Durham

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FREEPORT — The Regional School Unit 5 board on June 9 allocated more than $245,000 that was added to the budget at the annual town meeting on May 26.

The board voted 8-2 to approve the administrative recommendations.

Residents who voted to increase the budget suggested the funds be used for library books and four additional teachers within the school district, but the board had to wait until the budget validation referendum passed on June 8 to assign the funds.

According to Superintendent of Schools Shannon Welsh, the School Board directed administrators to present recommendations for the additional $245,400 that would best meet the needs of the students.

At the Durham Community School, Principal William Pidden focused on academic support and enrichment. An educational technician at 35 hours per week was added in grade 6, and an additional 10 hours per week was added for a literacy educational technician for first and second grades. Pidden also said adding a 0.2 foreign language teacher would create a full-time position.

At Mast Landing School, Principal Beth Willhoite said her suggestions would add support for students struggling with literacy. She added a 0.5 literacy teacher for coaching and academic support, a 0.2 librarian for enrichment purposes and an additional 15 hours for an educational technician to provide academic support.

Principal Ray Grogan at Freeport Middle School added a full-time sixth-grade science teacher who would be certified in math. The teacher would reduce class sizes in the sixth grade to fewer than 20 students per classroom, he said.

At Morse Street School, Principal Cherie White added an additional educational technician for 30 hours a week to focus on literacy support. The addition would allow the current literacy strategist to spend more time at Pownal Elementary School. She also added 0.1 to the music teacher, bringing the position up to three days a week.

An increase of 0.2 to the world language position will provide three days per week and would strengthen the program for Pownal and Freeport Middle School students. Finally,  $5,400 will be added for library books, and the remaining $36,000 will be added to contingency.

Pownal’s representatives, Eric Dube and John Green, voted against the recommendations.

Dube said while administrators worked hard to allocate funds for each school, he said the majority of residents indicated that the budget was too high in an advisory question. He said 1,682 people, or 65.5 percent, said it was too high while 874, or 34.5 percent, said it was too low or adequate.

“I know these are separate issues,” Dube said. “But even though (the budget) was passed, there are a large amount of people who think its too high, and I hate to ignore that.”

Green said while he also applauds the effort of the administrative team to use the additional  money in a efficacious and fair way, he is concerned how residents of Pownal and Durham may perceive adding funds to the budget at the last minute.

“There is no doubt there is a perception that in my community – that the budget as it was originally proposed was promoted as being fiscally responsible in a tough budget year,” he said. “The perception that $240,000 came out of nowhere, I wonder what future impact that $240,000 is going to have on the RSU. I haven’t seen the whole process, but it certainly smacks of irresponsible spending when the budget was pushed and promoted as being a responsible budget prior to this $240,000.

“I’m very concerned, generally, about the perception of the community,” Green continued. “Obviously that’s not all of the community and it’s not all of the three districts, but it is clear that at least two of these towns are going to have some problems with this.”

John Morang said the recommendations address the need to add staff, student support and enrichment.

“It changes the ratio by providing extra support where needed,” he said. “I think it really addresses the problem very well.”

Board member Jane Blais of Durham said she thought the addition of extra funds was an impulsive act, but the administrators did a thorough job of taking the public’s very specific requests and using the funds to support the students. She voted in support of the recommendations.

In other business, Nelson Larkins was elected chairman of the RSU 5 board, and Dube was elected vice chairman for the second consecutive year. Member Betsy Peters will resign her position in order to start her own business. She said she will continue to serve on the communications and strategic planning committees. Her resignation will open a Freeport seat in addition to a currently vacant Durham seat.

Welsh also announced that Tom Ambrose will replace Cherie White as principal of Morse Street School, and Lisa Demick will be the Pownal Elementary School principal and math strategist for RSU 5.

Ambrose previously worked at the Lafayette School in Sanford, and was selected from six candidates. Welsh said a team of administrators, parents and board members was impressed by his knowledge of working with kindergarten through second-graders, his ability to create a culture for learning and his support of teachers.

Demick comes from SAD 51, and comes highly recommended, Welsh said.

“Change is good,” she said. “The transition will start this summer.”

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or