Otisfield Elementary to go to K — 5 … if voters approve

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PARIS — School Superintendent Rick Colpitts told the SAD 17 Board of Directors on Monday, April 4, that Otisfield Elementary School will begin the two-year conversion to a kindergarten through grade 6 school if the proposed $39.1 million school budget passes muster with voters in June.

The plan is part of the proposed 2017 budget that shows a 2.1 percent increase in local share costs and 2.32 percent overall increase from the 2016 school budget.

“We’re out of room at the Oxford Elementary School,” Colpitts said. The problem, he told directors, is that the Oxford school needs another fourth grade classroom next fall to accommodate growing student numbers and there simply isn’t room to create one.

Otisfield Elementary School currently houses kindergarten through grade four. Currently, fifth- and sixth-grade students from Otisfield attend Oxford Elementary School.

The answer is to keep the current fourth-grade class at Otisfield Elementary School instead of having them come over to Oxford Elementary School for their fifth-grade class as they have been doing, Colpitts said. A fifth-grade teaching position will be created at Otisfield Elementary School to accommodate the move.

“It will be a two-year growing process to return Otisfield to K-6,” he explained.

In 2010, voters faced with a $2.6 million reduction in state aid, unanimously approved a $33.9 million school budget – that implemented the elementary cluster model. The plan maintained at least a kindergarten through grade four school in each community and eliminated 2.5 principals to save about $210,000.

To meet budget needs that year, 36 positions were reduced, including eight elementary education teachers, two elementary Spanish teachers and one position each in the elementary art, physical education and music programs. It was done without laying off administrators because of retirements and resignations of three of the eight elementary school’s administrators.

At the time then-Superintendent Mark Eastman said other alternatives to reduce the budget deficit included closing some of the smaller schools, combining grades and redistricting. Those measures were not favored.

Eastman said at the time that the move to cluster schools was a “sustainable” idea –  one that could have long-range positive budget effects. It would also, in part, help deal with declining enrollment in the elementary schools, which had been as high as a 28 percent loss of students in Harrison and Oxford over the 15 years prior to 2010.

Colpitts said Monday night that while some schools are losing or just maintaining enrollment figures, others such as Oxford Elementary are continuing to rise in enrollment.

Enrollment figures from March 2016 show Oxford has 56 third-grade students who will move into fourth grade this fall. Fourth grade currently has 38 students. Otisfield has only 17 third-grade students and 13 fourth-grade grade students.

In addition to the plan keep fifth-grade students at Otisfield, the proposed budget also addresses the need to hire two new bus drivers to relieve existing bus mechanics from having to spend time driving the buses. It restores a half guidance position at the middle school and addresses school facilities needs through a separate $1.2 million bond referendum.

The $1.2 million bond will be voted on separately as a referendum question on the June 14 ballot. If approved, the money will be used for a number of repairs including school roofs such as Guy E. Rowe Elementary School in Norway and paving needs at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School.

A public hearing will be held on the bond issue on June 6 at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School, beginning at 6 p.m.

The impact of the proposed budget on local taxpayers is a 2.1 percent averaged increased and is based on the state’s valuation of each town, said Colpitts.

Colpitts said there has been some good budget news. The school district learned several days ago that health insurance premiums are being increased by less than 1 percent – which has allowed them to save a projected $200,000. That money will be moved into the Contingency Fund.

Teacher salaries are still outstanding as negotiations continue to settle their contract. Negotiations  team chairman Barry Patrie said he hopes the process will be concluded sometime in May.

“There are still some contentious issues that need to be resolved,” he told fellow directors Monday night.

The district has reached the minimum required share under the EPS formula, but has not reached the recommended 100 percent share suggested by the state, Colpitts said.

The state uses a complex – and some say controversial – formula to determine the amount of money a school district needs from the state to provide students with basic educational needs. The state subsidy is based on a number of factors, including property valuations.

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net