RSU 9 Board of Directors discuss water testing, strategic plan

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FARMINGTON – At the RSU 9 Board of Directors meeting Tuesday night, Superintendent Elkington communicated that buses ordered in June of last year have been delayed until June of this year, and the two buses being purchased this year will be at least eight months out. He explained that the plan until receiving the new buses will be to keep the two oldest buses and use them in a limited capacity, rotating with backup buses.

Water testing in the district was the first topic of discussion for the board of directors. Elkington explained that the district—as the next short-terms steps—wanted to immediately retest all the fixtures that didn’t pass the new state standard for lead levels of four parts per billion, as well as fixtures that hadn’t been tested, but the company they’re using for testing is so backed up that they’re not conducting new tests until the fall, but they will retest the fixtures that did not pass initially.

The board had questions about why particular fixtures were affected and others were not. Explanations included that some fixtures hadn’t been used for a while and minerals can leach into sitting water; some fixtures, like those in the kitchens, are mainly used for hot water which has a more corrosive effect as well as the water in Maine being naturally more corrosive than in other parts of the country. The board also asked about the plan for water use going forward for things like washing dishes and cooking. Elkington stated he’s been assured that using the water for washing things is safe, and that the only issue would be using the water for cooking. Walmart and Hannaford, in partnership with the district, will continue to provide water as needed, and bottled water will be provided in the elementary schools for the rest of the year since 48 of the 54 problem fixtures are in the elementary schools.

Elkington assured the board that the levels are not a source issue, and the results of the second testing will probably be returned after the school year ends. For the long-term, discussions of funding for repairing the fixtures will put parking lot repairs on hold, and there are some state and federal funding options, but they’re looking into getting cost estimates for that now. They will not be looking to raise the school budget to cover the cost.

The board expressed being pleased with the approach to Elkington’s navigation of the situation.

Elkington also stated that, based on other forms of water testing happening right now, such as testing for PFAS, that water testing is a practice that will happen more frequently in the district going forward.

Elkington is working on a letter of request to waive the last student day of school as a result of closing the schools for the water issue. He hopes the deputy commissioner will approve this one time request. The board voted to approve making the request unanimously.

The Strategic Planning Team update came from Chair Lisa Laflin, who reported 10 long-term goals and 17 short-term goals, all incorporating the mission and vision statement. One long-term goal is that all RSU 9 students experience a wide array of programs, strategies and interventions to ensure individual learning success. A short term goal is that RSU 9 identify and evaluate existing student support systems to include programs and interventions.

“These are very calculated conversations we’ve had that then get rolled up into these long-term goals,” Laflin said. “The specific actions, steps and the responsible parties and those indicators for success are all being worked on by individual groups.”

The strategic planning team will present the final results after one more short survey in June.

There was discussion surrounding this year’s rise in absenteeism from students and some speculation as to the cause, but no organized data to report to corroborate.

There was also a brief report of new covid cases throughout the district, and the board confirmed the superintendent’s power to reinstitute a masking mandate, as approved by the board, on a school- and case-specific basis.

The Cole Grant application for the Reading Recovery program at G.D. Cushing school was approved unanimously. Reading Recovery is a first-grade specific literacy intervention program.

The Extended Learning Opportunity Programming Grant application was approved unanimously.

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