SAD 29 adds elementary counselor, cuts expenses in other areas

Posted Aug. 02, 2011, at 7:15 p.m.

HOULTON — Elementary school students in SAD 29 will see a new face when they return to school this fall as the school board on Monday evening approved a guidance counselor’s position for the 746 students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade.

The board also talked about initiatives being undertaken to cut back on expenses.

Included in this year’s $12 million budget was an allocation to fund an elementary guidance position for Houlton Elementary School, Southside School in Houlton and Wellington School in Monticello. The board members voted to advertise for the position last month, but they did not officially vote to create the position until Monday evening.

Candace Crane, Houlton Elementary School principal, said that eight or 10 people answered an advertisement for the post. The estimated salary will be between $60,000 and $70,000. Crane said she believes the program will increase student achievement and further help teachers meet the educational, social and emotional needs of elementary age students.

“I understand the economic times we are in,” she told the board. “I sympathize. But what weighs heavily on me is the belief that a guidance counselor can make a difference. I believe that early intervention is the key.”

Crane said her goal is to have the counselor teach students conflict resolution and problem solving in order to reduce bullying and enhance social skills. Teachers already instruct students in these areas, but they cannot spend significant time on them, and they usually address incidences of bullying and conflict after they happen, not before. A guidance counselor would provide enhanced instruction to try to prevent such incidences before they happen by going into the classrooms and working with students. Students also can meet one on one and in groups for counseling. The counselor will travel between the three schools.

The board approved the position by a vote of 10-1. Paul Cleary, who represents Houlton on the board, was opposed to the position because the school board had made close to $300,000 in staffing cuts to this year’s school budget. He didn’t think it was wise to add positions after cutting several.

Mike Hammer, the new superintendent of SAD 29, received permission from the board to enter into a contract with Pine Tree Waste in Houlton for trash removal. At this point, the district collects and disposes of its own trash. Hammer said Pine Tree Waste will come to the four schools in the district and remove the trash, which he expects will save approximately $3,000 this year.

The district also is hoping to save money by making changes to its laptop policy. The district has sent a staffer away to be trained to repair the Apple laptops used by high school students. The staff member now will be able to repair the laptops at the school instead of sending them away to be repaired by Apple at a rate of $75 an hour.

The district will create a pool of money to repair the laptops by charging between $20 and $35 a year to students who would like to take their laptops home.

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