2014-03-07 / Front Page

Summit brings together three towns

By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — In a perhaps long-overdue convergence of the minds, town administrators from Arundel, Kennebunk and Kennebunkport, including Superintendent Andrew Dolloff of RSU 21, held a combined public meeting at Kennebunk’s town hall on Wednesday, Feb. 26 to discuss the towns’ and the school district’s capital needs.

The meeting came on the coattails of contention surrounding a $75 million school renovation proposal the voters shot down at a Jan. 21 referendum.

Each town manager presented, essentially, a capital plan that included fiscal expenditures on necessities such as roads and road equipment, and made note of significant amounts of money to be spent in the next couple of years, i.e. a new town hall in Arundel.

Dolloff also presented the methods by which the past proposal’s building plans for each of the three schools were drafted.

A renovation proposal for Mildred L. Day School in Arundel, Kennebunk High School and Kennebunkport Consolidated School will likely face voters as early as June and as late as November.

When determining the capacity of a school, “We take the school board’s policy on class size and multiply it by the number of classroom spaces that are in each building that are used for classrooms,” Dolloff said.

“That has changed over time because of mostly the change in the need for special education and this thing called RTI (response to intervention) ... so more classrooms are being used for a smaller num- ber of students because they’re receiving greater attention from teachers,” Dolloff said.

The meeting provided for a very intimate and civil expression of facts by town administration and the opportunity for the public to, then, openly inquire. Some even cracked jokes.

Dolloff reported that the district receives approximately $3.5 million in revenue sharing from the state, or general purpose aid, which represents about 10 percent of the district’s budget.

Tibbetts asked Dolloff what the district plans to do about its long-term capital improvement. Dolloff reported that natural gas is an easy option at the high school due to its location just beyond the turnpike.

Gerry Slotnick of West Kennebunk said she has noticed, in her years living in Kennebunk, that the school district is very cautious with its decisions, and “We don’t tend to think out of the box.”

“I also see you as a lame duck,” Slotnick said to Dolloff in reference to his recently announced resignation in late June. “Where does the leadership come from now? ... I believe the people have spoken and we’re now looking for leadership . . . where will we get that?

“Real estate values are related to school performance. Education of our students is an important thing. Now that you are a lame duck what would you do if you lived here in terms of how to go forward?”

The district is in a tough spot, Dolloff said.

“The state would recommend that the school district reinvest in its capital projects 2 percent of the replacement cost of the facilities every year,” Dolloff said. “Well, if you look at the square footage in the district and you assign a $200 per square foot replacement cost, which is on the low end, you’d be looking at replacement cost of your facilities of somewhere around $100 million.”

“That would actually be a low figure,” Dollof said. “A conservative estimate that we should be reinvesting in our facilities each year to keep up with these issues would be $2 million. And we’re somewhere around $400,000 to $500,000 a year that we’ve put in over the last six years, and that’s including about $1.5 million that we received in stimulus funds from the federal government.”

“We’ve fallen behind the last 30, 40, 50 years because there have been tough decisions that this community and the school board has had to make.”

In years past, when faced with the decision of investing in programming for students or facilities, the district has, most often, chosen programming.

“I would say that probably most signifi- cantly in this district, over the years, when that debate has been held, we have fallen on the side of programming for students. Which is not necessarily a bad thing except that now it leads us to the situation we’re in where we have 50, 60, 70-year-old infrastructure that needs to be replaced,” Dolloff said.

In closing, Al Searles, chairman of the Kennebunk Board of Selectmen, said, “There are many things that we all do as towns, water companies, sewer districts, that we could ... begin a process to begin to see how we could cooperate with each other to save our ratepayers and our taxpayers some money.”

Searles proposed that each town start thinking about joining together fiscally, for example, in payroll, or in one joined fire department, public works group, and police department for the three towns.

“It’s difficult to do,” Searles said,”but it can be done ... in the end, maybe save all of our taxpayers some money.”

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