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MSAD 45 adopts new policy for students working harvest

WASHBURN, Maine — The MSAD 45 board of directors voted to end the district’s harvest break and instead allow high schoolers to work the potato harvest with excused absences.

MSAD 45, representing the communities of Washburn, Wade, and Perham, has been considering the issue of the harvest break for months after concerns were raised by parents, teachers and board members over the small number of students working on farms and the learning impacts on students.

For years the entire MSAD 45 district has started school early and then breaked for three weeks during the potato harvest. Last fall, 18 high schoolers worked in potato harvest jobs, others worked in non-farm jobs during the break, but more than half did not work at all, according to the district.

The board discussed various options for approaching the harvest break, including the possibility of keeping pre-K to 8th grade students in session and breaking only for the high school, but the proposals were deemed too disruptive or expensive.

MSAD 45 board chair Ryan Rackliffe, from left, MSAD 1 assistant superintendent Clint Deschene, and MSAD 45 board members Jan Grieco and Beverly Knowles, listen to discussion at an MSAD 45 board meeting Feb. 11, 2019. (Anthony Brino)

“I think that it would be more prudent to eliminate the harvest break, keep school in session for pre-K to 12 and focus on education,” said board member Beverly Knowles, a former teacher who also helped developed the harvest break policy proposal.

Board member Jan Grieco said the new policy is in line with work study and experiential learning methods that offer students real-world learning opportunities outside of the classroom. It doesn’t offer students a “free lunch” to simply miss class, she said.

Under the new policy, parents will have to give permission for students to be excused and the employing farm also will have to submit notification to the school. Students will be able to work only harvest-related jobs for up to 10 school days, which will count as excused absences, and students will have to make up their class work.

The policy is similar to the one that MSAD 1 was set to implement this year for Presque Isle High School before that district’s board reversed course and decided to reinstate the high school harvest break.

Knowles explained that the policy will fit within state education regulations on absences and not make students “chronically absent.” Chronic absenteeism, an issue that many school districts are dealing with among a subset of students, is defined as missing 10 percent of school days over the year, or 17.5 school days based on the Washburn High School calendar, Knowles said. Missing 10 school days for the harvest still gives students 7 days for sicknesses or other excused absences without being categorized as chronically absent, Knowles said.

The MSAD 45 board also discussed the posting of various administrative jobs for the district and the management services contract with MSAD 1. The board voted on a motion to end the contract in 90 days, but the motion failed.  

Since the 2016-2017 school year, MSAD 1 has provided superintendent and business administration services to MSAD 45 for about $63,000 annually. Since that first year, the districts also have added IT and special education services to the contract, which includes a provision for either district to withdraw with 90 days notice.

Board member Lacey Archer, who voted against ending the contract, said she was worried that ending the contract would have a major budget impact on MSAD 45, as the services sharing contract has saved the smaller district money.

Other board members said they thought that the MSAD 1 board will likely want to exit the contract and they thought MSAD 45 should be prepared to once again have its own superintendent and other administrative positions. The MSAD 1 board, which meets on March 20, has not yet taken any votes on the contract.  

In other MSAD 45 board news, two board members are ending their terms this month: Ryan Rackliffe and Spencer King. Rackliffe’s term ends March 31 and he is not seeking re-election, while King is resigning due to work responsibilities.

Washburn’s municipal elections will be on Monday, March 18. The MSAD 45 board meets next at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 9.

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