2018-01-19 / Front Page

Listen to Learn sessions are underway

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

Assistant Town Manager Larissa Crockett takes notes during the first Listen to Learn session last week at Wentworth School as Superintendent of Schools Julie Kukenberger and Town Manager Tom Hall field questions, concerns and comments from residents. The next session will be held Monday, Jan. 22. (Michael Kelley photo) Assistant Town Manager Larissa Crockett takes notes during the first Listen to Learn session last week at Wentworth School as Superintendent of Schools Julie Kukenberger and Town Manager Tom Hall field questions, concerns and comments from residents. The next session will be held Monday, Jan. 22. (Michael Kelley photo) The future of the school buildings, traffic in town, state aid to education, bus transportation, school start times and the impact construction of the new public safety building will have on Memorial Park: those were some of the concerns residents expressed at the first Listen to Learn session Thursday, Jan. 11.

Listen to Learn is a series of open-ended sessions in which residents can share their concerns with Town Manager Tom Hall and Superintendent of Schools Julie Kukenberger and a new tactic to get community feedback before the preliminary municipal and school budgets are unveiled in early April.

Future Listen to Learn sessions will be held Monday, Jan. 22 at 6 p.m. at Dunstan Fire Station and Tuesday, Jan. 23 at Scarborough Public Library, beginning at 6 p.m.

“This gives us an great opportunity to receive feedback from you about the programs, services, what you like, what you don’t like, what you want more of and what you want less of,” Hall told the more than 20 individuals who came out to Wentworth School for the first session.

Assistant Town Manager Larissa Crockett will compile all the comments from the sessions, which will be reviewed by school and municipal department heads as they craft their spending plans.

“I’ll create it for staff use, but will make it publically available so you can see what was brought up as sessions you didn’t attend,” she said.

Several of the concerns centered on bus transportation for Scarborough students, including how the stops are decided and what can be done to create shorter bus rides and a safer experience for those waiting for the bus or walking to and from school, especially with the high snow banks this winter.

Kukenberger said bus routes are analyzed every year and are determined by ridership and distance to the school, all the while keeping student safety in mind.

Kelly Murphy, former chairman of the Scarborough Board of Education said one thing that could help ease parents concerns with bus transportation is to outfit each bus with a GPS transponder. This would allow parents and students to know where their buses are and when they will arrive, lessening the concern of children waiting for their buses, especially in the cold temperatures we have had this winter.

“This may alleviate some of the anxiety people are feeling,” she said.

Another school-related concern was the changing of school start time and how it would impact students, staff and parents. Next school year will have middle school start at 9 a.m., high school at 8:50 a.m. and kindergarten to fifth grade at 8 a.m. The change is aimed at giving students more time to sleep, but critics have argued it will negatively impact younger students as a result.

“Our intent was not to favor one population over another. We are making decisions based on what we believe is in the best interest for all in our community,” Kukenberger said.

Kukenberger said school staff members are looking into how changing the school day schedule will impact athletics and after school activities. Crockett said the community services department just released a survey to gauge the public’s need for before and after-school care.

The change, once implemented, will be studied and start times will be tweaked, if necessary.

Ideally, all Scarborough schools would start at the same time, but that is not possible because of the geographic size of Scarborough and the size of its school bus fleet. Kukenberger said an additional 12 buses would be needed to be added to Scarborough’s fleet of 22 buses to make that happen.

The future of Scarborough schools and how much longer the department is going to rely on the temporary classrooms at Scarborough Middle School and the primary schools as space to educate students, was also something brought up at the session.

Kukenberger said she has applied for some state funding to “right-size” the middle school, which would include expanding the school and eliminating the portable classroom building where the entire sixth grade is housed. She expects to hear back whether Scarborough got funding in summer or fall of 2018.

“We hope to be right at the top of the (Department of Education) list. We are super optimistic, but its highly competitive,” she said.

“We have needs,” she later added, “but it is about how great those are compared to other schools.”

Aside from expanding the middle school, school officials have also discussed building a consolidated primary school – possibly for pre-K to third grade – somewhere on the municipal campus, moving sixth grade into Wentworth School or repurposing one of the existing primary schools into a pre-K/kindergarten building.

Scarborough’s school facility needs, Kukenberger said, must be compared to, and with, other facility needs the town has, something that Hall said, will be part of the on-going comprehensive plan update.

The town has adopted a long-range facilities plan, the purpose of which, Hall said, is to “identify what the town’s needs are, get a sense of priorities and a sense of when we can do it.”

One facility individuals at the meeting said they wanted, which has come up countless times in the past, is a community center. The facility, which could house senior citizen space, athletic facilities, a pool, a gym and a multi-purpose space, has been listed as part of the town’s long-range municipal facilities plan as a medium term (five to 15 years) project. More pressing facility projects include a public library expansion, town hall expansion and new IT/server space and an ice rink, a project proposed by Friends of Scarborough Hockey that fizzeled when funding could not be secured.

“If done right, with the right amenities that cater to all needs, it will be very heavily used,” Hall said of a future community center.

Hall said the best way to get the project funded may be for the town to partner with an organization or seek private donations. Kukenberger said there are community center models out there that have been successful through partnerships with schools.

A new facility project in the works: the public safety building and its impact on Memorial Park was also something brought up at the initial Listen and Learn session.

Hall said the location of the building has been thoroughly vetted and is unlikely to change, although how the building looks and is sited may be altered. The proposal from the ad hoc public safety complex building committee is being reviewed as design plans are finalized.

“Our goal,” Hall said, “is to minimize the impact on the park.”

The need for a stoplight on the corner of Mussey Road and Payne Road was also brought up as a need in the community. The alignment of how the two roads converge, Hall said, has been studied and it is not ideally suited for a traffic light. A total redesign of the intersection would be needed, something that wouldn’t necessarily need tax dollars because there is money in the traffic impact fee account for that area.

As expected, the session also included concern about the amount of funding the school department was expecting to get from the state. Kukenberger said the first draft of general purpose aid from the state is expected in February, but will be adjusted along the way.

The session may pave the way to solve a problem a group of senior citizens have been having recently. Elaine Richter, a member of the HealthLine group, which for 30 years has offered senior citizens a chance to exercise, workout and socialize, said the group is in flux right now because the longtime instructor recently resigned.

The group most recently met Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 6 a.m. at Scarborough High School and is concerned because members have no assurance classes will continue, even thought they have paid community services.

Richter, who has participated in the program for 22 years, said the group likes going to the high school, but would willing to go to other schools, as long as members can use the gym, walk around the school or grounds and if possible, use a weight room, if available. Richter said the program is not just about exercise and even though “we probably wouldn’t be in as good heath without the program, it is about having a social connection with their peers in Scarborough.

“As we grow older, that becomes more and more important,” she said.

Hall said staff is looking into options as to how to continue the program.

Hall said once the budget is presented, there will be another public outreach as town council and board of education members will be traveling to different venues around town to talk with individuals about their thoughts about the proposed municipal and school budgets.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

Return to top