MSAD 58 board reviews county-wide school safety grant program

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SALEM TOWNSHIP – The MSAD 58 school board heard a report from Sgt. Ryan Close with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office during their monthly board meeting on Thursday, March 16.

Close has been visiting the school districts in Franklin County on behalf of the sheriff’s office. Recently, FCSO received a grant for school violence prevention from COPS, the Community Oriented Policing Services, which is a division of the Federal Department of Justice. The grant is approximately $348,000 with a 25% local match. Close said that the local match does not have to be in dollars and cents; it can include in-kind matches, such as Close’s time spent in utilizing and administering the grant. In some cases there may be a financial contribution for school districts, but it would not be expected to exceed 25% of the total cost of the project.

Close told the MSAD 58 board that the purpose of the grant is to promote safety and reduce the risk for school violence. The sheriff’s office applied for the grant with the assistance of the school districts in the county and with the Healthy Community Coalition, and the sheriff’s office is the agency administering the grant funds.

FCSO aims to bring all the school districts up to the same standard of safety and to implement consistent protocols in all the schools across the county, Close said. The first steps include hiring a consulting firm to perform a safety assessment in all the school buildings in the county to determine areas that need to be addressed. In addition, the county is looking to improve and streamline communications between the schools and the sheriff’s office so that if an incident takes place, emergency responders can take immediate action.

The grant was received in October of 2022. Franklin County was the only recipient of the COPS grant in the State of Maine, and the funds will be used to address needs in all the districts and to ensure that all the districts can achieve the same standard of safety for students, staff, and the community.

When it comes to school violence, prevention is key, Close told the board, but they also want to take steps to make sure that if something does happen they are responding in an appropriate way.

Superintendent Todd Sanders said he wanted to applaud the sheriff’s office, stating that whenever the district seeks support from FCSO the response is almost immediate.

The sheriff’s office provides primary support for the schools in municipalities that do not have their own local law enforcement agency, and partners with those local agencies if necessary. The sheriff’s office is the primary law enforcement agency for the entirety of MSAD 58 and for Stratton-Eustis.

Close said that the deputies make a point of spending time in the schools, particularly those that do not have a school resource officer or a local police department. He said that seeing students at school allows deputies an opportunity to interact with students in a positive way.

“We’re really excited to continue building these relationships,” Close told the school board.

On the subject of school safety, the staff at MSAD 58, along with the staff from Rangeley and Stratton schools, participated in an ALICE training on Friday, March 17.

Board member Barbara Barnes expressed concerns over the Carrabassett Valley School Committee meetings. The Carrabassett Valley committee has held one ‘Regional Education Summit’, which was open to a select number of school board members and other stakeholders by invitation only. Another meeting has been scheduled for April 26 at Kingfield Elementary School. Sanders said that these meetings are Carrabassett Valley School Committee meetings, not MSAD 58 meetings.

Barnes also made a motion to resume the MSAD 58 ‘Future Planning Committee’ meetings. This motion failed, with five in support and six opposed. In a previous meeting in October 2022, the future planning committee meetings were paused for two years to allow the district time to assess the situation after the reconfiguration of the district.

The board received two letters of resignation from school board members Kim Jordan from Kingfield and Lois Barker from Strong. Superintendent Sanders indicated that they would continue to serve out their respective terms but would not be seeking re-election when their terms end in June of 2023.

An issue with the American Rescue Plan Act funds for the school district was discovered earlier in the year, resulting in a $19,000 discrepancy. Sanders reported that a check for $19,000 was delivered to the Maine Department of Education to repay that discrepancy, although the district is still waiting for the state to process the check and resume sending reimbursements for district expenses. The finance committee is adjusting budget line items to cover expenses temporarily until the issue is resolved.

The school board will be meeting on Tuesdays and Thursdays through mid-April to discuss the budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The budget meetings are open to the public and will be held at Mt. Abram High School, starting at 6 p.m. The first budget meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 21.

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