YARMOUTH — Sarah Day faces challenges from Michael Wilbur and Allison Hodgkins in her bid for a second term on the town’s School Committee, on which she serves as vice chairwoman.

The three candidates discussed Yarmouth’s school budget, as well as an issue they’d like to address facing the town’s schools.

The proposed $29.9 million budget, under review by the Town Council, includes $2.97 million in debt service, up from $1.92 million in the current year, largely due to payments on a $52 million bond for upgrades at all four of Yarmouth’s schools.

Committee member Margaret Groban is not running again for the second available seat on the panel. Election Day is July 14.

Sarah Day

Day said she “absolutely” supports the school budget at its current level. Given the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, “it’s a really challenging economic time,” she said, and should the Town Council determine that a certain dollar number in cuts need to be made, “we’ll take a look at it again; we’ll determine where we can make those changes.”

District-wide enrollment has grown from 1,392 in 2009 to a projected 1,765 this fall, and could reach 1,972 by 2027, according to information provided by Superintendent Andrew Dolloff.

“We have a lot that we need to do in order to address that growth,” Day said, such as hiring more teachers. “Our English Language Learner numbers are growing, as are the number of students with social-emotional needs.”

A new issue that’s emerged is coping with the pandemic, and meeting the needs of students forced since mid-March to undergo distance learning at home, Day said. The schools have done well implementing remote programming, but “when the kids come back, there are going to be social and emotional issues that we’ll have to deal with; there will be academic issues that we have to deal with in terms of getting everybody where they need to be for their grade level.”

Day said she has “full confidence” in the school administration’s ability to address those objectives.

Development of a new five-year district strategic plan, to replace the guiding document that expires this year, is a goal of Day’s if she is re-elected.

Michael Wilbur

Wilbur noted that the greatest portion of the school budget is driven by salaries, and acknowledged that the construction projects bond is something town voters approved “overwhelmingly” in 2018. “I think we always have to be aware of gilding the lily, but at the same time I think we have a really strong education system here,” he said. “And that’s the reason that many people live here, and that has really been the source of success for many Yarmouth residents over the years.”

Wilbur said he supported the budget when it was rolled out, but given the current economic strain thinks that some reductions should be considered, although nothing drastic.

“Yarmouth must continue to provide the best education we can for our future citizens,” Wilbur said. “Growth in our school population is a given, and we must continue to meet more students’ needs. At the same time, we must be certain to spend only what we must to provide education to our children. We must use our resources carefully, especially in these uncertain times.”

As a 30-year resident and 20-year business owner in Yarmouth, “I’ve felt the tax burden having excellent schools place on a community,” he said, noting that as an elementary school teacher in Topsham, “I have an understanding of the opportunities and challenges facing public education.”

Yarmouth, as with other districts across the country, is seeing students coming in with greater learning needs, and Wilbur said he wants to ensure they get the help they need.

Allison Hodgkins

Hodgkins said she respects “the hard, careful and collaborative work that both the School Committee and the Town Council are doing right now” regarding Yarmouth’s school budget, adding she was heartened to see the balancing of competing expenditure needs, “because this is a tough year, and these are hard conversations.”

She called the proposed budget “prudent and responsible.”

As Yarmouth continues to grow and change, presenting different needs among its students, its School Committee and administration “have to figure out what is the most effective and efficient way to meet the needs of everyone, because that’s the mandate of a public school,” Hodgkins said. “… Everyone has a right to a good education, and we need to make sure that that happens.”

A 1987 Yarmouth High School graduate, Hodgkins said, “Yarmouth public schools made me what I am today. … And I want to work with the committee to navigate these challenges, to make sure that every kid who lives in Yarmouth has the same educational opportunities that I did, my sister did, my brothers did, my nieces and nephews … and my kids are having. It’s really that simple.”

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