2018-10-04 / News

School board not sure about changes

By Abigail Worthing Staff Writer

SACO – On Nov. 6. Saco residents will vote on changes to the charter, but one change in particular has been met with pushback from the very entity it seeks to change: the school board.

As part of the series of amendments to the charter, two involve the school board. One is the i┬║mplementation of mandatory scheduled budget meetings between the school board and city council to ensure the two bodies of local government stay on the same page for the entirety of the budget season, avoiding surprise and discourse at the deadline as there was during negotiations for 2018-2019 budget. The second change would allow the mayor to preside over both the city council and school board.

During a Sept. 26 school board meeting, a joint workshop was held with the council prior to the regularly scheduled agenda to discuss the proposed charter changes.

Should the charter change be approved, Mayor Marston Lovell – and mayors to follow – will preside over meetings of the school board and facilitate them as a nonvoting member. The current chairman is Michael Ohayon of Ward 5, who served on the board from 2003-2009, and rejoined the school board in 2013.

Leading the voice of dissent against the change was Ward 2 board member Lynn Leary, who is concerned over what the change will mean for the school board and worries that bias could come from the direct line between council and school system.

“While I’m sure that you would be unbiased, Mr. Mayor, there is concern over what could happen in the future,” Leary said.

As the structure currently stands, the city council and school board function independently, with each focusing on the needs of the municipal government and school department respectively. With the crossover of the mayor on both entities, there could be ambiguity. Leary is concerned that the proposal came hand-inhand with the tumultuous budget season of this past year.

“I feel like this is very reactive,” Leary said. “At this point it just feels like a power grab.”

Lovell was quick to point out that this would not be the first time the mayor of Saco has been chairman of the school board, as was the case prior to school department’s departure from RSU 23.

“We’re not doing this to manipulate a vote here,” Lovell said. “I wouldn’t, for example, not allow someone to say their position. It’s just management of the meeting.”

Another concern with the implementation of the mayor as head of the school board is the perceived loss of a chairman, whose duties include helping determine committee placement.

“The intention was never for you to lose your chair,” said Ward 7 Councilor Nathan Johnston. “At least that’s not how I read it. You should keep a chair.”

“This will be new for all of us,” said Ward 1 school board member Garrett Abrahmson. “We just ask that you bear with us while we work through it all.”

Also discussed was the scheduling of the budget meetings throughout the year. While the original charter amendment stated specific dates for budget meetings between the council and school board, the amended version states that a meeting must be held during the course of said month as to avoid violating charter should a snowstorm interfere with the meeting. The new schedule of meetings will cause the school board to change its timeline to create the budget, accelerating the presentations and finalized budgets to be able to present in February instead of March. According to Superintendent Dominic DePatsy, this will be challenging as February is the “worst month” for schools. It’s an abbreviated month that is shortened by a week-long school vacation as well as the occasional snow day.

With the new schedule, the budget will be presented in February, and ready for the first budget meeting with the council in March before managing additions to the budget requested by school administrators, which could include improvements to buildings.

The idea derives from the desire to avoid surprises in the budget, as well as ensure there is a united effort on both sides for negotiations. DePatsy said he already had a basic draft of the budget prepared for 2019-2020 budget, but would have to wait to get the final head counts from student bodies to know what to expect from the following year. The next school board meeting will take Thursday, Oct. 4 and the next joint budgetary meeting has yet to be scheduled. All proposed charter amendments will be up for public vote during the Nov. 16 elections.

Contact Staff Writer Abigail Worthing at news@inthecourier.com.

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