TOPSHAM — The Maine School Administrative District 75 school board would have to spend $910,000 to hire more teachers in order to fully reopen the district’s kindergarten through eighth grade schools in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the district’s superintendent.

Superintendent Shawn Chabot told the school board Thursday the district would need to hire 13 more teachers across six schools in order to open enough classrooms to space out all students enough to meet the Maine Department of Education’s physical distancing requirements.

Chabot said there are too many Mt. Ararat High School students to bring back to the high school all at once and to move them safely from class to class. The state’s physical distancing requirements would have to change before the high school could reopen to full in-person instruction, he said. The high school saw its first possible coronavirus exposure last week.

Students in MSAD 75, which serves Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Harpswell and Topsham, were split into two groups. Both attend school in-person two days per week and work remotely the other days. More than 400 students across the district have opted for remote-only learning.

Chabot said the district business manager is examining the school budget to try to determine how to pay for hiring more teachers. While the district has received $1.95 million in federal coronavirus aid and expects more soon, Chabot said that money needs to be spent by Dec. 30, so it helps little with labor costs.

Before the district spends $910,000 on hiring more teachers, board member Holly Kopp said she wants to know if more students will switch to remote-only learning if the district were to transition to full-time in-person instruction.

Chabot said that is a question that can be included on a survey for parents.

Remote learning

School board members heard from parents Thursday who are concerned about the level of in-person instruction their kids are getting three weeks into the school year.

Brandi Moore of Bowdoinham asked if the district has a plan for when students will start learning instead of just getting “busy” work.

“I have two high school students very capable of performing work on their own but they do need for their classes, instruction time,” Moore said.

Brandy Robertson of  Bowdoin said the remote learning her children are doing resembles the remote learning they did in the spring. She argued many parents want more days of in-person instruction.

Jonathan Robertson of Topsham has two elementary school-age children doing remote-only learning and said he is impressed with the level of detail and attention they receive. He thanked the district for offering families the choice to learn fully from home.

“I think there are some really good things coming out of this too,” Robertson said.

School board member Alison Hawkes said many students are struggling with school and aren’t learning five days a week. Hawkes said the district needs to think outside the box to fully reopen.

“I’m more worried about my kids not getting educated and having the best education than actually getting COVID,” Hawkes said.

That is not the case for everyone, said student representative Sydney Dyer, a senior at Mt. Ararat High School. She said some children or their family members are more susceptible than others to getting seriously ill from COVID-19.

“I am losing my senior year and I have to come to terms with that, and so does every single senior in our building,” Dyer said. “It’s terrible but this is how it is and obviously we want to be in school all the time, but that is not safe.”

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