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Working Towards a School Solution – It Takes a Village

Council Corner: Working Towards a School Solution – It Takes a Village

By Nick McGee (Chair) & April Sither (Vice Chair), Town Council

After the failed school referendum in November 2023, Town Council and School Board leadership knew that we had a responsibility to lead our community through the contentious time and toward a solution for our school facility needs. The weight of how to navigate the next steps was not lost on any of us. While we weren’t sure what the solution was, we knew that community buy-in was critical to the success of any project moving forward. In early 2024, the Town Council and School Board unanimously approved the formation of a School Building Advisory Committee (SBAC), which was open to any resident (18 years or older) who wished to join. Within a few weeks, more than 70 individuals had signed up. 

We will be honest, those first few meetings were rocky. It is no small feat getting 70 people all rowing in the same direction. With patience and the election of a diverse leadership team to guide the work, we were off and running. For several months the committee members worked diligently with open minds to examine both the needs of our students as well as our aging school facilities. With help from School and Town staff, the committee established a set of key assumptions that would be used to guide the development of possible solutions. Those baselines included enrollment projections, facilities deficiencies, examination of DOE guidelines, as well as mindful cost implications. Although our numbers dwindled slightly, week after week our dedicated volunteers poured themselves into the work. A communications subcommittee was created to ensure that early public engagement was a top priority. The communications subcommittee analyzed the town wide survey data, created content for social media and the website, and hosted a community forum to gather resident feedback. 

With our baseline assumptions established, the committee broke into working groups to develop preliminary proposals. The current proposals range from construction of a fourth primary school with space for pre-K, a new 2-3 elementary school, a K-3 community school, and renovations and additions to the middle school and existing primary schools. Preliminary work and presentations for each proposal are available on the “Building Committee” page on the school’s website. On June 10th the SBAC voted to recommend to the Town Council and School Board that all four proposals be further examined by a Phase II building committee. The SBAC chair, Peter Hayes, will be presenting the executive summary report to the School Board at a workshop scheduled for 5:30pm on Thursday June 27th.  

The entire SBAC worked incredibly hard to address the community's concerns as they developed and refined their work. The committee has made significant strides in ensuring that their proposals not only meet the needs of the town and students, but that they also align with residents’ expectations and financial constraints. It is with tremendous respect and gratitude that we thank them for their time, dedication, and willingness to step up during a critical time. We would also like to extend sincere gratitude to the Town and School staff who have supported this work.

While we aren’t exactly sure what Phase II of the school building committee will look like, we look forward to continuing to partner with our School Board colleagues and community members as we narrow our options down to a solution that we hope will have broad support. The communications subcommittee plans to continue their outreach efforts throughout the summer months, so be on the lookout for opportunities to make your voices heard! 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Scarborough Town Council.

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