School committee members and Superintendent Keith Laser welcomed Boothbay Region Elementary School Assistant Principal Tricia Campbell as interim principal for Boothbay Region High School Feb. 12. Campbell will fill in for Principal Dan Welch, who is on a leave of absence.
Chair Larry Colcord thanked Campbell and Athletic Director Allan Crocker who had been working together to fill in the BRHS principal duties.
Said Laser, “I begged Shawna and I begged Tricia to come back up to the high school again. Tricia did such a great job while Dan was absent … I just think it's important to have an administrator and we're blessed to have somebody of Tricia's caliber.”
Laser invited Darlene French and Laurie Dickinson to explain the state of the CSD's food service and how unpaid lunch bills are burdening the budget. French, now in her final year as food service director, looked back on her 43 years at the CSD and how free and reduced lunch have not solved the problem of outstanding debt.
“I lobbied for school lunch for 20 years in Washington, D.C. for the Maine School Food Service Association to make sure our children eat. We had to be the voice for child nutrition and fight, fight, fight for money – which we never got. We did the HealthierUS School Challenge, we were in the top 1,200 schools in the United States in the challenge and we thought we might get a little something else. All they gave everybody was six cents.
Now, the federal government wants schools to provide more fruits and vegetables, but is not helping pay for that, said French; as a result, schools like BRHS and BRES are watching revenues decrease, free and reduced programs go unused and enrollments suffer.
“This year we're already down $4,800 less than last year because a lot of our children were denied (free and reduced lunch) because either parents got jobs or the minimum wage went up. We've lost a lot of children from reduced to paid.”
Said Dickinson, “I had some poor kid … who came up to me and said, 'You know, Laurie, my dad got a 50-cent raise and since he got a 50-cent raise we don't qualify for free and reduced anymore' … That child shouldn't know that, but she does and it's just affecting everybody. It's very sad.”
Dickinson said she and French estimated it would cost the CSD around $767,000 to provide universally free breakfast and lunch and the budget is already over $400,000 which does not count the costs to eliminate debt. Committee members agreed with Laser, pulling from the undesignated fund balance may be necessary to pay down some of the debt.
Special Services Director Lisa Smith said a group from the CSD has been discussing the state of education in the district and has discovered the biggest problem is truancy’s impact on enrollment. The group found 14 students or 8% have either unenrolled from BRHS or are chronically truant. “We’ve got a couple who are doing minimal tutoring and making more progress than they have in a long time ... But these are kids who are not participating in any education. And we work very hard to get them here.”
While truancy can stem from trauma or behavioral and emotional issues, most parents have tried to get their kids to school, said Smith. Mostly, the parents lose the energy and ability to make their kids do something. “And in order to get the school to stop visiting and calling, they will send a letter saying ‛Please unenroll my child.’”
Smith said Camden Hills Regional High School runs Zenith, an alternative program for students in grades 10-12 who learn offsite at the superintendent's office building. “It really knocked our socks off ... the kids were amazing, the staff was amazing. We liked their approach, their success … Students have to apply to their program. They fill out the application, meet with the program director and … they have to complete a project … There's some buy-in. You don't just get to go. You've got to do something to show you want to be there.”
Smith said a similar program for the CSD could help keep some of these students, and the CSD would need to find the absolute right person to head it up and the right place for it. Committee members liked the idea and Laser said he would investigate costs and a place in the budget as Smith and her group iron out how such a program would work in the CSD.