Journal class

SAD 17, OHTS unveil proposed budgets for 2022-23

Oxford Hills School District Chief Financial Officer Carrie Colley answers questions about SAD 17’s proposed 2022-2033 budget during a forum at Oxford Hills Elementary School last Thursday. Nicole Carter / Democrat announcer

OXFORD — Trustees of Maine School Administrative District 17 have proposed a budget of $47,557,984 for next year, an increase of about $3.7 million from 2021-22. District directors will review the proposal at the May 4 board meeting.

The proposed budget of $3,439,320 for Oxford Hills Technical School has already been passed by the district board.

Each budget will be submitted to voters for final approval in a referendum vote in June.

According to CFO Carrie Colley, these budget increases will have no impact on local valuations due to several factors. The district will implement a planned deferral of current budget savings of $1.2 million, and mil rates for landowners will drop from 8.4% to 7.9%.

Additionally, District 17 learned last July that after finalizing its 2021-22 budget, state general purpose assistance would be $1.2 million more than budgeted and trustees voted to apply this amount to fiscal year 2023.

Presentations on the SAD 17 district budget proposal were held last Wednesday evening at Paris Elementary School and Thursday evening at Oxford Elementary School.

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Colley reviewed the needs the district faces in the upcoming school year and broke down expenses for constituents.

She explained that administrators have no control over most of the district’s annual budget, as the fixed costs of SAD 17 operations represent more than 96% of the total operating budget. Salaries alone account for 79% of expenses; the district is in a year of contract negotiations with educators and expects higher costs in the future.

Health insurance is expected to rise 2.1%, which Colley says is a much smaller increase than many districts.

Utilities are also expected to continue to increase in the coming year and new budgets for the school district and technical school allow for a 10% increase in electricity, 50% for transportation fuel and 20% for heating.

“SAD 17 has over 600 employees,” Colley said. “We are the fifth largest school district in Maine. But geographically, we are the biggest. We drive 250,000 miles per year, which is 1,428 miles per student day.

“There are 20 buildings (in SAD 17) with the school buildings, two maintenance buildings, two at the Gouin Sports Complex, Roberts Farm, Streaked Mountain School and the central office.”

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The impact of the pandemic has been severe after two years of shutdowns, with quarantines and remote and hybrid education, so the district is hiring more social workers and counselors to meet students’ mental health needs.

It will also bring in-house full-time drug and alcohol counseling services, a position that has been outsourced three-quarters of the time. This change will not reduce costs, but will increase the availability of student services.

“We had a lot of uncertainty,” Colley said during Thursday night’s forum at Oxford Primary School. “We have mental health issues with staff and students.

“The pandemic has also affected attendance. Many students have missed many schools, which affects their learning. Some are not where they should be. . . and really struggle to keep up with their classes.

The school district has also had to make up for staffing issues since the pandemic, a situation that all levels of the district have felt. At the start of the 2022-2023 school year, 11 teaching positions were vacant, as well as many educational technician positions.

The lack of educators necessitated creative restructuring, including combining multiple levels of students into shared classrooms in some elementary schools. There will be more challenges in the next academic year; Colley shared that Hebron Station School has a newly appointed principal and only one returning teacher.

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To help retain staff and increase performance, SAD 17 adds an instructional coach to help current teachers with best practices and support new teachers entering the field. It also adds lacrosse to college athletics, adds a social studies teacher at Oxford Hills Middle School and an elementary arts teacher who will increase classroom instruction and reduce inter-school mileage and driving time.

Colley noted that recent experiments with hiring and retention bonuses for bus drivers have not worked. From day one of this school year, transportation has been difficult for families. Last September, Oxford Primary School had a bus breakdown on the first day of school; later that year, Hebron had only one of two bus lines operating for an extended period.

“It’s a national problem. (In Maine) they are working at the state level to address this issue,” Colley said. “To try to make it easier to get a bus driver’s license. You need to get a commercial driver’s license and then you need to go beyond that to become a bus driver. It’s a long and cumbersome process that they try to simplify.

Oxford Hills Technical School Student Services Coordinator Nancy McClean presented Maine Professional Region 11’s $3,439,320 budget ahead of Thursday night’s community forum. The technical school budget will increase by 3.84% next year. It serves students in the eight communities of SAD 17 as well as Buckfield, Sumner, and Hartford, which are part of Regional School Unit 10.

McClean said there will be new initiatives at OHTS in the fall, starting with students able to take math courses that can be applied as earned credit at Central Maine Community College.

A new partnership is being established with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 567 for an electrical training program, with some courses being delivered at the association’s learning center in Lewiston.

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The OHTS has expanded its commercial driver license training this year and is launching adult education classes. McClean said that, so far, 17 students have enrolled in CDL courses.

Tech programs are being developed for young students at Oxford Hills, including a Tech Camp this summer for elementary students and a week-long middle school program is being reinstated for the fall.

McClean said OHTS Director Paul Bickford is exploring other new programs to add in the future, including training in welding, firefighting/EMT and cosmetology, as well as ways to add space to the technical school, which is at full physical capacity.

Once the community presentation of next year’s budgets is complete, the SAD 17 budget committee will meet and review it on April 27. The committee will make its final recommendations to the 21-member board at its May 4 business meeting.

The Oxford Hills Technical School board passed its proposed budget of $3,439,320 ahead of Thursday night’s community forum.

The approved budgets will be presented to Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School and the referendum vote for the district’s eight communities is scheduled for June 9.

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