WINSLOW — School officials gave their final pitch on passing the $8.1 million school renovation bond Wednesday at the last public forum before the June 12 referendum.

Incoming superintendent for Winslow schools, Peter Thiboutot, started his presentation by making the argument for why a strong school system is an integral part of being a strong community, and that by passing the bond to close the junior high and expand and renovate the elementary and high schools, it would help strengthen their school system.

He said in order for Winslow to attract young families and for the town to grow, Winslow would need to be a good district that offers diverse programming, including the performing arts. Additionally, he said nowadays students are relying on schools for a lot of their basic needs.

“All of our students — regardless of personal circumstances — rely on us to provide them with a quality education, and that includes teachers and programming.”

In addition to constructing a new wing for the seventh- and eight-grade students attached to the high school, the bond would fund a cafeteria expansion, gymnasium expansion and the construction of a new 415-seat auditorium.

Thiboutot said he wanted to spend a little more time on the auditorium as it has been a divisive component of the bond plan.

He said he wanted to distinguish a performing arts center, which is what the new auditorium was referred to in the previously rejected $10.3 million bond proposal, and what would be built at Winslow High School if the bond passed.

He said the performing arts centers at high schools such as Lawrence and Messalonskee have more seats in the theater than students who attend those schools. If the junior high is closed, Winslow will have about 638 students and only 415 seats.

Additionally, he added that the stage was necessary for teaching space and that the current junior high band, with all of their instruments, would not be able to fit on the high school’s current stage.

He added that the performing arts programming could attract quality students to Winslow, citing that seven of the top 10 seniors in last year’s graduating class were involved in the arts.

Thiboutot also addressed how security would be improved at the elementary school by reconfiguring the front entrance so that staff had a better view of the outside.

But also, if residents are concerned about school safety or a school shooting happening in the community, Thiboutot said they should invest in programming that helps connect students to the school.

“If you want to make the schools a safer place, it’s crucial that the students in the building feel connected to the school and feel that there adults there that care about them,” he said. “We provide the programs that our kids to connect to you lessen the likelihood of one of these acts would happen.”

In regard to financial impact to the community, Thiboutot said the bond would result in a property tax rate increase by $0.819 for every $1,000 of assessed property value, raising taxes by an average of $118.75 per year for the median household. He added that residents would pay $3.87 more in property taxes per year for the $8.1 million bond and the $7.83 million figure that the Town Council had proposed.

The discussion from the residents in attendance following the presentation focused mainly on the concern of grouping seventh- and eighth-grade students with high schoolers and what effect that may have on the junior high kids.

“A junior high student is insecure and doesn’t know who they are and sequestering them in a wing to a high school is not the place,” said one woman, who added that she had been a teacher in Winslow for 36 years. “You have said students are needy and they’re more needy now than ever.”

She said that she thought a kindergarten through eighth grade school would be better so that older students could engage in mentoring the younger students.

“I know these students and I know where they’re at and it worries me,” she said.

Thiboutot said that the committees and officials looked closely on how to design the schools and visited other area junior and senior high school configurations. He said that it was designed so that the junior high could maintain its own identity.

The polls will be open for the school renovation bond from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, June 12, at Winslow VFW Banquet and Conference Center on 175 Veteran Drive.

Emily Higginbotham — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @EmilyHigg

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