FAIRFIELD — Members of the Town Council and the board of School Administrative District 49 took a step forward Tuesday night toward an agreement for the town to plow snow on parts of the high school property.

The meeting came two days ahead of another potential major snowfall. It also came less than a month after the town stopped plowing the Lawrence High School complex, as it had historically done. The issue stemmed from a legality question. Technically, the school grounds are owned not by the town, but by the school district. When the town stopped plowing the complex, it left the municipality at odds with members of the school board, who thought Town Manager Michelle Flewelling was working against them.

At the Tuesday night meeting, councilors, board members, the town’s Public Works Director Bruce Williams and Superintendent of Schools Dean Baker all favored coming to a two-year deal that essentially would have the district contract with the town to provide plowing services at the high school complex. The deal would call for the district to allocate $15,000 toward plowing, which breaks down to $2,500 over a six-month period in which it theoretically could snow enough to require plowing. After two years, the two sides would revisit the deal. Both sides agreed that two years was a reasonable amount of time.

The Town Council had been scheduled to discuss the plowing agreement as far back as October, but the two sides could not come to an agreement. Historically the town has plowed the back and front parking lots for the school, as well as two access roads for School Administrative District 49. However, it has come to the town’s attention that without a collaborative agreement with the district, the town is not allowed to spend taxpayer dollars on something not owned by the municipality. The two sides initially could not strike a deal on the length of a collaborative agreement. The town wanted a one-year agreement to get the schools through the winter, but the school board wanted a two-year agreement.

There was also a concern about insurance liability of town public works employees plowing on school grounds without an agreement. The new agreement, which the school board is scheduled to discuss at their meeting Thursday, would provide that liability coverage. The council did approve a one-year agreement earlier this year, but that was tabled by the school board, which asked for a longer agreement. The council plans to discuss the proposal at its next meeting but would not vote on anything until at least the second meeting in January.

The school district hired an outside company to deal with snow removal after the larger snowstorms in early December. Should the two sides continue to remain at odds with each other, the district would issue a request for proposals for plowing snow, if necessary. The town wanted a one-year deal to allow for some review afterward, while the board wanted two years in order to assess budget and finances in March 2019 to work on a good-faith extension for both parties.

The disagreement left school board members thinking that Flewelling had taken the reins and decided to leave the district in the cold, where plowing responsibilities are concerned. While Flewelling had said the plan was to revisit talks after the one-year agreement, some on the board thought that was not what they had been led to believe.

Under Maine education law, parties agreeing to a collaborative agreement share the responsibility for and cost of the delivery of certain administrative, instructional and non-instructional functions. Administrative, instructional and non-instructional functions include, but are not limited to, system administration, school administration, special education, transportation and buses and facilities maintenance.

The town of Fairfield buys fuel and diesel for plowing from the district at slightly above-market value. While there was some talk in the meeting about whether that’s the best deal for both sides, there was agreement for the town to continue buying fuel from the district. Baker said he would not begrudge the town doing what it saw fit to save taxpayers money.

“I believe all of us want to save taxpayers money and avoid costs when we can,” he said. “I would hope that we maintain the old ways of trying to have an emphasis on helping each other when we can without hurting anyone’s options.”

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis

 

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