The Boothbay selectmen are going back to school. On Sept. 13, the board was unanimous in wanting to discuss the current condition of both elementary and high schools prior to the November referendum. Selectmen requested Town Manager Dan Bryer schedule a meeting to tour both schools guided by Facilities Manager Dave Benner and Trustees Chairman Steve Lorrain. Selectmen want school officials to both describe each building’s condition and explain why replacing the high school is better than a renovation. Selectmen also want a trustees’ representative to meet with them during a board meeting. Selectmen want to hear school officials’ rationale behind each bond question.
Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor voters will cast ballots Nov. 7 on two possible options for their aging school campus. Question 1 seeks voter approval for a $28.8 million bond to construct and equip renovations to the elementary school. The bond also includes funding a seventh and eighth grade wing. Question 2 seeks voter approval only if Question 1 is approved. The question seeks approval to authorize Community School District trustees to include in the project replacement of the high school building and facilities along with an auditorium. Question 2 is seeking $60.2 million.
Trustees voted in favor of recommending a “Yes” vote on Question 1, and voted not to take a position on question 2.
Selectman Steve Lewis believed there are too many unanswered questions regarding the referendum. One regards a new middle school addition at a $3.5 million cost. “About 20 years ago, there were 700 students in the elementary school. Now, there are half that. Why are we building a new wing for a school with fewer students,” he said. Lewis also had concerns over building a new auditorium seating 550, and a $1 million maintenance building.
Selectmen discussed the referendum after Boothbay Harbor resident Denise Griffin spoke about her concerns regarding building a new school for a rapidly decreasing school enrollment. She received information from Alternative Organizational Structure (AOS) 98 showing Boothbay Harbor accounted for 17%, and Boothbay 47%, in grades 7 and 8. “We all know the schools need renovations, but we need to make sure the money is spent the right way,” she said.
Griffin is concerned Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor are carrying too large a burden in educating students. Southport and Edgecomb account for a significant part of tuition students attending grades 7-12, but Boothbay pays 60% of capital costs and Boothbay Harbor pays 40% while tuition payments account for less than taxpayer student costs. Griffin reported, if voters approved the referendum, it would dramatically increase Boothbay Harbor and Boothbay per pupil costs and property taxes. “Property taxes already increased by 7% without the bond. At this rate, it’s not sustainable over the next 20 years. No one will be able to live here. It’s a little scary,” she said.
Griffin said Boothbay Harbor’s median age is “close to 60,” based on a recent Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission housing study. Bryer confirmed Boothbay’s median age is 54. “It’s not 35, and we need to be thinking about people who fall in that category,” she said.
Last month, Tom and Laura Perkins of Boothbay Harbor urged both town selectboards to form a committee to study high school regionalization. On Sept. 14, Bryer met with Boothbay Harbor Town Manager Julia Latter, Boothbay Harbor Selectman Ken Rayle and Tom and Laura Perkins to discuss formation of an ad hoc regionalization committee. Lewis supports a local committee, but does not support an already formed AOS regionalization committee. “I’m not sure the AOS is where it should be coming from,” he said. “Somebody in Georgetown has zero interest in regionalization. It’s more relevant to the CSD (Community School District) trustees, and that’s where it should start.”
Selectmen also discussed seeking more financial assistance from the state. Lewis suggested the Legislature should allow the CSD to charge more for tuition and change the school funding formula. “We need to contact Holly Stover (state representative) and our senator (Cameron Reny),” he said.
Boothbay Harbor Selectboard Chairman Mike Tomko also attended the meeting. He reported his board looked forward to working with Boothbay in seeking more information on the school project.