About 20 students, parents and colleagues on July 7 came to the defense of Boothbay Region High School College Access Coordinator Hannah Johnson, whose job has been eliminated in the 2020-2021 draft budget. The Community School District committee revealed $146,000 in cuts since the last draft. The cuts lower the proposed budget to $10,391,000, down from last year’s $10,407,000. At just under $40,000 in salary and benefits, Johnson’s job represents under 0.4% of the CSD’s overall budget and was the only filled job to be cut.
Alternative Organizational Structure (AOS) 98 Superintendent Keith Laser notified Johnson June 16 her job had been removed from the budget. Said Johnson, “He apologized and suggested that I look for other work within the district, but officially I was terminated from my role … that day … I hadn't really had any warning that my job was on the list of potential cuts …”
Said Laser, “I don't like letting people find out about their positions being cut. I've been in districts where that's taken place and it's not comfortable for the employee and I didn't want to do that.”
Johnson and BRHS librarian Kerrin Erhard, the former coordinator, stressed the job’s importance to the students of BRHS and Boothbay Region Elementary School. Erhard was the first to serve in it when the job was created in 2013. The two said the program has grown to include SAT prep, MELMAC and other grant acquisitions, FAFSA labs for parents and students, traditional and community college campus visits, professional industry workplace visits, trade program visits, alumni panels, admissions panels, organization of college admissions representatives, college and career access curriculum for eighth grade, financial literacy for seventh grade, senior and sixth grade student mentoring at Camp Kieve, alumni tracking for three years, and alumni support.
Said Erhard, “… I think it would be a huge step backward for our school because this program has just gained momentum and the position is extremely important for our students especially, now, when students need a connection, to just walk in and talk in addition to the guidance. The guidance office is crucial, but the college process has just burgeoned. It's crazy. You can't put an hour load on it … I just think it would be a huge mistake to get rid of this position.”
Johnson explained that her job is far more than helping students fill out college applications or scheduling a campus visit; she also helps students with no support systems at home, families in need of appealing their financial aid packages, and former students who need help. “… Sometimes I get messages at midnight from a student who's cramming for a nursing exam and just needs a voice telling them that it's all going to work out and that they matter and that they're doing a good job.”
Alumni Riley Sullivan, Kaitlyn Tuttle, Lilley Harris and Faith Blethen asked the committee to reconsider its decision. Said Harris, “It just blows my mind that a budget would be put above the future of students at our school. I know a lot of it is preserving the financial security of the community. I don't see how that can be disconnected from investing in our students by keeping Hannah's position.”
BRHS alumna, local teacher and parent Jennifer Whitney derided the board for cutting the job she said is necessary for the betterment of students and the community. “(It) would send the wrong message to our students and teachers alike … I do not support a budget that cuts the position of our college navigator. She is an integral part of the BRHS community, a supportive adult for our students and a guide for parents of seniors.”
Committee vice-chair Stephanie Hawke said teachers, parents and students should not look at any of the board’s decisions as an attempt to harm anyone. She said all decisions are made with the best interest of students in mind.
“We have all been on these boards for years and we're here because we care about the kids, not to do any harm. So, please don't think we would do any harm. We are trying to be considerate of the taxpayers and everybody involved. This is hard. There's no decision when you make a decision like this that's easy.”
The committee is expected to finalize the budget at its next meeting, currently scheduled for 5 p.m. Aug. 12. It might be moved up.
A foundational plan to return to school is still in the works as AOS 98 continues working closely with its principals, other districts and Maine Department of Education, said Laser. Principals Shawna Kurr of BRES, and Tricia Campbell of BRHS have been creating plans for a number of scenarios to prepare for whatever MDOE decides. The committee voted unanimously to appoint member Peggy Splaine as its representative to the CSD COVID-19 Reopening Plan Committee. She will be joined by two teachers, two community members, School Resource Officer Larry Brown and a school nurse and doctor, said Laser.
The committee welcomed Boothbay Harbor’s new board member Ruth Macy. Macy replaces longtime chair Larry Colcord, who ends his run in his 24th year.
Kurr was unanimously granted a contract as principal of BRES for 2020-2021, and an extension to 2021-2022 with a salary of $99,600.