2017-02-16 / Letters

Watchdog group meets with Thornton Academy

To the editor:

Intelligent people tend to talk about the facts. They don’t sit around and call each other names. That’s what you can find on a third grade playground.

– Ben Carson

Saco Citizens for Sensible Government had the opportunity to discuss with Superintendent Dom DePatsy and Business Manager Jason DiDonato on Jan. 26, the issue of funds owed to Thornton Academy. Facts and information were provided to Saco Citizens for Sensible Government. They clarified that there was no error in budgeting for ninth- to 12th-grade-students. The issue is the number of students projected to attend Thornton Academy (30) versus the number actually enrolled. New students (72) increased over projections by 42.

The school department, working with the Thornton Academy business manager, projected an additional thirty students for fiscal year 2017. This number was included in the budget for student tuition. The actual number enrolled at Thornton Academy as of December 2016 was 991 students. Total new enrollments were 72 students entering Thornton Academy. The breakdown by class is: ninth grade, 30; 10th grade, 15; 11th grade, 17; and 12th grade, 10.

Students enrolled above the projection are 42. The final number will not be known until April 2017. The reason is the student count for Oct. 1, 2016 and April 1, 2017 will be added together; then divided by two. This will be the number of students attending Thornton Academy that will determine student tuition payment.

There are a number of factors that increase enrollment that may not be known initially. For example, new families purchasing homes in Saco; placement by the Department of Health and Human Services; court or probate orders; homeless children; families placed in motels through general assistance; emancipated minors residing in Saco; school drop outs; etc. Saco is also a transient community in some respect. Winter rentals are available from September through June and families also move into these homes temporarily. Estimating enrollments is an educated estimate.

All students attending Thornton Academy from Saco must show proof of residency. The policy is established by Maine state statues. “Residence” is one’s actual residence maintained in “good faith.” It is considered a place where family activities take place, such as eating meals, sleeping, a place to play. In other words, a “home.”

While it is up to the school department to project enrollment, better information received in a timely manner from other sources could make this analysis easier and add to its accuracy:

 Work closely with state representatives to get support on school issues.

 Work with city planning department to assess effect of new residential development and that impact on school enrollment. When a developer approaches the city, include in their packet materials to develop a school impact study, as well as an impact study on the police, fire and other city services.

 Look at off season rentals and the transient population effect on the school department based on past experience.

 Closer communication with the Department of Health and Human Services regarding students coming into the district if known in advance.

 Lastly, biweekly updates on all student enrollments at all levels provided to: school board, city council and administration at both the school and city level.

What is important to recognize again is the fact that this was not an error. And, more importantly, though the school department and the municipality are seen as two separate units, the reality is, we are one city serving all individuals living in our community.

John Harkins, chairman Saco Citizens for Sensible Government

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