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Growing Enrollment and Pandemic Recovery Are Key Challenges Facing Hermon Schools

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Tackling the growing number of students attending Hermon High School and helping families, teachers and staff recover from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic are the most important issues facing the school board. Hermon School, five of the eight nominees for positions on the panel agreed on Wednesday.

The Bangor Area League of Women Voters sponsored the forum which was held in the meeting room of the Public Safety building. About 40 people, including many school district employees, attended the forum.

Hermon residents will elect two school committee nominees and three city council nominees on June 14. Mail-in ballots are available at the city clerk’s office. The annual municipal meeting will be held on June 16.

Last month, the board slashed the school’s budget by $100,000 in a 4-2 vote. All candidates who attended the forum supported the $17.64 million budget as proposed by the school board, an increase of 9.65% over last year’s budget. This would add high school teaching positions as the populations of Hermon, Levant, and Carmel grew. Levant and Carmel pay tuition to send their students to Hermon High.

The two vacancies on the board are now filled by Vice Chairman Scott Hatch, 37, who is not running for re-election, and Deborah Langille, 53, who is seeking a second three-year term.

Councilman Anthony Reynolds, 66, is running for school council rather than re-election to the council. He had served four terms on the school committee when he was elected to the council three years ago. He supports the school budget as proposed.

The other candidates are: Christopher McLaughlin, 47; Kim Shaffer, 65; Tanya Fox, 47; Samatha Lang, 45; Haily Keezer, 38; and Rachel Deabay, 30.

Lang, Keezer and Deabay were unable to attend the forum.

Both McLaughlin and Shaffer have a background in social work and counseling. Both candidates were backed by the Hermon Education Association, the local teachers’ union. Keezer has been endorsed by the Christian Civic League of Maine.

All of the forum’s nominees except Reynolds said the most immediate need was to help students and families recover academically, socially and emotionally from the pandemic. Reynolds, the only candidate in attendance who has lived his entire life in Hermon, pointed to the city’s finances.

“We have a great school system in place,” he said Wednesday. “The biggest problem is how to provide for it financially.”

Written questions from the public ranged from whether fifth graders, who attend Hermon Middle School, should have recess to whether schools should have police officers. Other questions focused on how to attract and retain support staff and whether growth needed to be controlled more tightly to slow the rise in enrolments.

Enrollment in Hermon grew as more families moved to town. Enrollment this fall is expected to increase by 25 high school students, one middle school student and 10 elementary students for a total of 1,389. This represents an increase of 109 students from the 2018-2019 school year.

Candidates agreed on Wednesday that Hermon Schools were packed and may need to expand. This will require the acquisition of more land, according to Reynolds.

McLaughlin said he’d like to hear “what kids have to say” about overcrowding.

“Nobody wants a line of portable classrooms going back to the woods,” he said. “I’d like to talk to an expert about it.”

Fox said she was not opposed to portable classrooms as a temporary solution. She warned that there is no “silver bullet” to the problem.

Incumbent Langille advocates for the school committee to address the burgeoning student body at nearly every meeting. She said the council, school council, planning board and residents “must all work together to deal with this influx of pupils”.

Shaffer agreed.

“We cannot continue to let ideas languish,” she said.

Keezer and Lang answered questions about their campaigns on Thursday.

“I want to take an active role in helping teachers, students and parents come together to provide the best possible educational opportunity for this generation and future generations,” Keezer said.

She also said that school safety “is essential for learning” and that teachers and students need more support staff in classrooms.

Lang said she was running “to give back to my community everything the community has given to my family.”

“I hope I can provide support to the superintendent and teachers to help our children get a great education and help them prepare for the future,” she said.

All of the candidates for the forum agreed that the relationship between the city council and the school council needs to improve so that the councilors better understand the needs of students, teachers and staff.

All said that joint meetings between the two bodies would be beneficial. When he once served on the school committee, Reynolds said its members met several times a year with the councilors.

All of the candidates who attended the forum said addressing the challenges facing the district would require more funding, which could affect property taxes.

Hermon’s current tax rate is $11.99 per $1,000 of estimated property value.