2017-02-22 / Opinion

Saco Schools: Facts about TA funds owed

By JOHN HARKINS
Guest Columnist

"Intelligent people tend to talk about the facts. They don't sit around and call each other names. That's what you can find on a third-grade playground." Ben Carson

Saco Citizens for Sensible Government had the opportunity to discuss with Superintendent Dom DePatsy and Business Manager Jason DiDonato on Jan. 26, the issue of funds owed to Thornton Academy. Facts and information were provided to SCSG. They clarified that there was no error in budgeting for ninth-grade to 12th-grade students. The issue is the number of students projected to attend TA (30) versus the number actually enrolled. New students (72) increased over projections by 42.

The school department, working with TA business manager, projected an additional 30 students for FY2017. This number was included in the budget for student tuition. The actual number enrolled at TA as of December 2016 was 991 students. Total new enrollments were 72 students entering TA. The breakdown by class is: 9th grade – 30; 10th grade – 15; 11th grade – 17; and 12th grade – 10.

Students enrolled above the projection are 42. The final number will not be known until April 2017. The reason is the student count for October 1, 2016 and April 1, 2017 will be added together; then divided by two. This will be the number of students attending TA that will determine student tuition payment.

There are a number of factors that increase enrollment that may not be known initially. For example, new families purchasing homes in Saco; placement by the DHHS; court or probate orders; homeless children; families placed in motels through general assistance; emancipated minors residing in Saco; school drop outs; etc. Saco is also a transient community in some respect. Winter rentals are available from September through June and families also move into these homes temporarily. Estimating enrollments is an educated estimate.

All students attending TA from Saco must show proof of residency. The policy is established by the Maine State Statues. “Residence” is one’s actual residence maintained in “good faith.” It is considered a place where family activities take place, such as eating meals, sleeping, a place to play; in other words, a “home.”

While it is up to the School department to project enrollment, better information received in a timely manner from other sources could make this analysis easier and add to its accuracy.

Work closely with state representatives to get support on school issues.

Work with City Planning department to assess effect of new residential development and that impact on school enrollment. I.E., when a developer approaches the city included in their packet materials to develop a school impact study, as well as an impact study on the police, fire and other city services.

Look at off season rentals and the transient population effect on the school department based on past experience.

Closer communication with DHHS re: students coming into the district if known in advance.

Lastly, biweekly updates on all student enrollments at all levels provided to: school board, city council and administration at both the school and city level.

Important to recognize again is the fact that this was not an error. And, more importantly, though the school department and the municipality are seen as two separate units; the reality, we are ONE city serving all individuals living in our community.

John Harkins is the chairperson of the Saco Citizens for Sensible Government organization.

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