Whitfield: Wiscasset selectmen should be part of Boothbay Region’s long range education talks

Sun, 11/26/2023 - 8:45am

    Wiscasset Selectmen’s Chair Sarah Whitfield wants board representation at Alternative Organizational Structure (AOS) 98’s long range planning committee meetings. In a selectmen’s meeting Nov. 21, Whitfield said she was not happy to learn other towns had selectmen and school committee members at a planning committee meeting, but Wiscasset’s selectboard, she said, was not invited. 

    “I think it’s very important that we be at the table as well, particularly because ... at least personally I believe this is a turning point, particularly now that Boothbay has turned down the two ballot measures that they had” on would-be building projects. 

    In email responses Nov. 22, Whitfield confirmed she was referring to that committee’s first meeting, Sept. 26. The Boothbay Register reported Wiscasset Superintendent of Schools Kim Andersson, Wiscasset School Committee Chair Jason Putnam and other representatives from Boothbay, Boothbay Harbor, Edgecomb, Georgetown, Southport and Wiscasset were there, including members of selectboards and school boards, Boothbay Town Manager Dan Breyer and AOS 98 Superintendent Robert Kahler.

    Committee Chair Kelly James answered Wiscasset Newspaper’s email questions Nov. 22. “It was not our intention to exclude any part of any of the surrounding communities,” James wrote. “We cast the invitation net as wide as we could based on the means at our disposal. I’d like to extend an apology to the Wiscasset selectboard if they did not receive an invitation, as that was never the intent. I’d love to have them join the next meeting.”

    James said the next one has not been set due to the holidays. “After the new year we will figure out a date.”

    Whitfield voiced her view Nov. 21 during public comment after resident Kim Dolce renewed her questions on the work of the future of the schools committee. Wiscasset voters called for the committee to look at expansion, consolidation and the status quo. Dolce maintained the committee has not documented why a K-8 school department would need two schools; by her “rough estimate” she submitted, Wiscasset Middle High School “would more than accommodate a one-school scenario.”

    Dolce called on the board to have the future of the schools committee or a new committee “fully examine the consolidation scenario as mandated by a town vote.” She also again said she hoped there will be a public meeting. Whitfield, selectmen’s liaison to the committee, apologized for not getting Dolce an answer to a question. “And I still will get it for you, I just have not yet,” Whitfield told her.

    Dolce read aloud from her handout to the board, “The increased discussion both locally and regionally about school expansion and the construction of new schools as well as the work of the Comprehensive Plan Committee should be enough to impress upon you the importance of a complete and unbiased report covering all scenarios that were mandated by a resounding town vote of 274/135.”

    The committee’s first report, released last summer, stated discontinuing grades nine throughout 12 would not cut transportation costs or spare the department financial responsibility for those students; and risks costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    Nov. 27, Whitfield responded to Wiscasset Newspaper’s email questions on the committee. As liaison, she has helped with agendas and scheduling meetings. Whitfield wrote: “We do not have an expected date for the second report and have not met since we put out the initial report earlier this year. I do still plan to get an answer to Kim Dolce's followup question about exactly why all students wouldn't fit in one building.

    “We need to talk about this with the committee and then figure out the most appropriate course of action, but,” Whitfield added, she and at least Chair Duane Goud “agree there needs to be a wider scope than just this committee. And that's starting to happen with the (AOS 98 long range planning) group ... and other towns are interested in a bigger conversation. Plus, the comprehensive plan will have at least one session around education where the public will get to share their hopes and preferences for education. This committee was formed when there wasn't really that kind of interest from other towns so the landscape there has changed. So ultimately I hope we can change course a bit in a way that honors the voters’ wishes to plan for the future and answer those questions but also include the surrounding communities and the possibilities that may exist now.”