News Feature

Deer Isle
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, December 15, 2011 and The Weekly Packet, December 15, 2011
CSD 13 school board discusses background checks, class size, lunch program

Deer Isle-Stonington CSD Archive
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by Jessica Brophy

The December 6 CSD school board meeting covered a range of issues, from the quality and quantity of the elementary school lunch program to school policies on volunteers and class size.

The board also discussed the Union 76 meeting set for the following day, including the appointment of board members Ginnie Olsen and Skip Greenlaw to the study committee on the union’s options moving forward. Board member Andy Vaughn noted the options for the CSD could include “sticking with what we’ve got, having another school join our CSD or having the CSD separate from the union, with its own principal/superintendent.”

Several board members thought it was important to present options to the community to get public comments before committing to a direction. Superintendent Robert Webster said a public forum on the 2012-2013 budget will be held on Wednesday, January 11. Vaughn agreed that would be a good time to put out the possibilities and general numbers for the public to discuss.

Forrest Davis, head of the school lunch program in the elementary school, spoke at length about meals served at school. Vaughn told Davis he thought the staff was doing a great job, but that he had several students in the elementary school speak to him about the school lunch, many of whom missed the daily salad bar.

“I wonder if we were a little too aggressive by cutting money from the budget in cutting the salad bar and limiting servings,” said Vaughn. “There’s a difference between limiting the amount of Fritos and the amount of salad kids can eat.”

Olsen said she had voted for the budget cuts not to serve “substandard food, but to reduce the amount of food that is thrown away.”

Davis said the primary reason for not having a salad bar daily is the loss of three staff hours per day, which cuts into the prep time available to the cafeteria staff. He also said the salad bar works well for older kids, but it isn’t used by the younger kids to make salads, but instead to fill up on croutons. “Maybe we could work something out with the older kids, but we’re pressured as it is,” said Davis. He also suggested returning another staff hour daily, or having volunteers in the lunchroom to help out.

“I think more so than losing the salad bar, for a lot of the students this is the only really good meal they get,” said parent and elementary school ed tech Traci Martin. “We never heard ‘I’m still hungry’ last year. We had a lot of filling, healthy foods last year.”

Board member Vicki Zelnick asked whether there had been any “caloric analysis” of the meals to figure out how to optimize the meals.

“I’ve heard several times that Forrest just needs a couple of more hours [of staff time],” said Vaughn. “I hope at budget time we can do something about this.”

The board then discussed school policy on volunteers. After the October 3 arrest of the K-12 technology coordinator (who did pass a background check and had been fingerprinted) on charges of possession of child pornography, several parents raised the question of background checks for volunteers at a public forum in November. The proposed changes to the policy would require volunteers to have a background check before coming into the school.

Several audience members said they knew of schools or organizations that required background checks. The cost of background checks would come out of the school budget, said chairman Mark Cormier, at an estimated cost of $35. There are dozens of people who volunteer at the school over the course of the year.

Elementary school principal Mike Benjamin asked whether the new policy was “addressing the issue of some employee we didn’t know had a problem, or a bigger issue.”

Parent Jennifer Morrow said she didn’t think background checks would make kids safer, but having a rule where there is always more than one adult in the room would help keep children safe.

The other policy discussed was a potential new minimum class size policy, spurred by last year’s budget battle, in which the small fourth grade was kept in two classes but the equally small second grade was combined.

Vaughn said the board had talked about a minimum class size of “16 or 17,” depending on the age of the students, with younger grades in smaller classes.

High school electives would need to have at least five enrolled students, with a possible exception for AP courses.

Both policies were sent back to the policy committee to fine tune and return to the school board with suggestions for future discussion.

In other business, high school principal Todd West reported NWEA scores showed improvement. For a full score report, visit www.dishs.org.

The school board’s next meeting will be Tuesday, January 3, at the elementary school at 6 p.m.