WATERVILLE — The Waterville Board of Education on Monday voted unanimously for students to start the school year Sept. 8, the day after Labor Day, with teachers starting two weeks earlier to prepare and identify problem areas.

The 7-0 vote came after the board voted 7-0 to finalize a $25.7 million school budget for 2020-21 that eliminates the school resource officer by trimming $50,000 from the budget. The board made the decision because the City Council requested the board cut the budget to help keep the tax rate from increasing.

School Superintendent Eric Haley said the school board took a first vote on the school budget a few weeks ago and after the finance committee met, the city wanted to add a police officer position to the budget come January 2021. The city also ran short on what it expected it would get in tax revenue, he said.

School board members said the council decided the schools and city should each trim $50,000 from their respective budgets after the finance committee met and recommended that move. However, school board members said that while the finance committee includes two school board members, they were not notified of, or invited to, that finance committee meeting.

Board member Pam Trinward said she listened to a council meeting at which the council discussed the budget and the plan to have the school board cut $50,000 from its budget.

“We weren’t invited to the City Council meeting, so technically, there was no way for us to make any comment at all,” she said.

Board Chairperson Joan Phillips-Sandy said the schools had already asked the city for about $64,000 less in taxes than they did last year and the schools took over the $35,000 cost for trash collection which the city had previously funded.

“In effect, we are being asked to pick up the cost for one whole police officer and we’re being asked to cut school spending to do it,” she said.

Board member Maryanne Bernier said the board and school administration had done more than their due diligence in asking for less in taxes this year. She asked if the school resource officer would be able to go back to the Police Department to work.

Trinward said schools contracted with that officer, who works for the Police Department.

She said with so much school funding coming from the state, the schools must be good stewards of that money and should not be using state-funded money to pay for a police officer for the city.

“I think it was the last thing we put in our budget,” Trinward said. “It was a tough, hard budget for us, and it should be the first thing we take out.”

The council on Aug. 4 took a final vote to approve a $43.56 million municipal and school budget. The school board traditionally takes a final vote on the school budget after the council takes its final vote on both budgets.

The board Monday discussed a back-to-school plan for this fall that includes requiring students and staff who choose to attend school in-person to wear face coverings, social distance, wash their hands and stay home if they have COVID-19 symptoms.

On Monday, school principals and directors detailed their individual back-to-school plans to the board. Those plans will be provided to families, along with a school calendar. Those individual plans supplement the general back-to-school plan posted Friday.

Albert S. Hall School Principal Barbara Jordan and George J. Mitchell School Principal Allan Martin said the schools will follow Centers for Disease Control & Prevention protocol, which includes physical distancing, wearing masks, appropriate hygiene and use of personal protective equipment.

They talked about the social-emotional mental health aspect of schooling during the pandemic and said school counselors and social workers will offer support to teachers, staff, students and families of students who attend school or learn remotely from home or day care. Families may directly contact guidance counselors and social workers, Jordan said.

“We want to continually monitor our students to make sure they are getting what they need,” she said.

The 18-page general plan was posted Friday on the Waterville schools website, wtvl.aos92.org.

The plan was developed with an advisory group of parents, teachers, school administrators and school board members, including Phillips-Sandy, who said the plan is subject to change.

Waterville schools will use a hybrid model of instruction where students will be assigned to specific “cohorts” that designate the days of the week they will attend and the days they will have off-site learning. For instance, on the first week of instruction, Cohort A will have in-school learning Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and off-site learning Tuesday and Thursday. The second week, that group would have in-school instruction Tuesday and Thursday, and off-site opportunities for Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Cohort B would have in-school instruction Tuesday and Thursday of the first week and off-site opportunities for learning on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. In the second week, the group would be in school buildings Monday, Wednesday and Friday and off-site, Tuesday and Thursday. Cohort C enables a parent or guardian to choose off-site learning using online platforms including Google Classroom.

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