The Boothbay-Boothbay Harbor Community School District Building Exploratory Committee is seeking around 40 people for three 2.5-hour Zoom meetings in January. Alternative Organizational Structure (AOS) 98 Superintendent Robert Kahler told committee members Dec. 8, the meeting will cover the state of the buildings, all recent work and all outstanding needs. The BEC aims to have members from the schools' administrations, teachers, staff and students as well as members from the wider community, he said.
Though the meetings will be held over Zoom, they will not be broadcast because discussion will be split into several breakout rooms so everyone can speak, Kahler said. The end product will hopefully be the core of the community's desires and concerns, he said. “Then that's what's going to go out to the broader community … It's just to get a manageable working group size to start. Then we're going to reach out to the community (with) virtual meetings, we'll do in-person meetings with the same talking points, we'll get that information back and … start to move forward from there.”
Member Bruce MacDonald said the group should also be speaking with Wiscasset School Department. Any such multi-million-dollar projects should be informed by the needs of the wider region, so if Wiscasset students could benefit from a new facility, establishing a building closer to Edgecomb Eddy School would be logical, he said.
“I'm not involved in the (BEC) because I guess I'm not supportive of the whole thing from the beginning. I think it's going down the wrong road, but if we're going down that road, I think we ought to include the larger question of Wiscasset … It seems to me like … we're just looking at the CSD, but there have been noises from Wiscasset over the last several years that they may be even thinking of closing.”
Committee Vice Chair and BEC member Peggy Splaine said she suggested the BEC meetings to Wiscasset School Department board members who might find the idea intriguing. Fellow member Abby Jones, also a BEC member, said she has suggested the same to Edgecomb Eddy School board members mentioning MacDonald’s suggestion that a new school could be in Edgecomb. “Nothing is decided at this point. Every option is still on the table.”
Kahler said COVID-19 pool testing for Boothbay Region Elementary School and Boothbay Region High School will begin Jan. 10. The program will be helpful in potentially catching any positive cases before they become symptomatic which means fewer people will need to quarantine; most schools participating in the program have found it to be successful, he said.
“It's another layer of mitigation. It's noninvasive, it's pretty quick in terms of testing for the kid (and) it doesn't interrupt their day. There's just more work on the back end organizing everything and scanning everything …We have a number of staff volunteers who have stepped up and volunteered to help out.”
Pooled testing is voluntary and parents will be getting information to register their students online. The goal is to have pools tested every week, said Kahler.
BRHS Athletic Director Allan Crocker said more schools have required masking at home and away games since the board decided Seahawks athletes can compete without masks. BRHS is one of only five schools with a more relaxed policy only requiring masking when visiting teams are required to by their schools, he said. All home game spectators are required to wear masks.
Crocker said 11 of 18 boys’ basketball games and 14 of 18 girls’ games will require masks and with the holiday game and all post-season games in Augusta requiring masking, he was not sure if the board would want to require masking at all events or continue with current policy. Splaine and Committee Chair Stephanie Hawke said the board’s decision was to give school administrators the power to decide because only they can know the safest answer in the moment.
AOS 98 Director of Special Services Chris Baribeau said the CSD has five vacancies for educational technicians and while the issue is not unique to the peninsula, geographic location is a factor in attracting applicants. Current staff have been finding ways to move their schedules around and take on the extra workload, but it still impacts the continuity of services and the quality of resources, he said.
“All staff are equally valuable. The time and energy our support staff have invested to ensure they receive adequate training and new learning to enhance their ability to offer diverse skillsets in the best interest of our students is deserving of very high praise.”