Limestone school will have longer summer break, but no October vacation

1 year ago

LIMESTONE, Maine — Limestone Community School students and staff will start classes one week later beginning with the 2023-2024 school year.

On Wednesday, the school committee voted unanimously to eliminate the school’s weeklong October break. Aug. 30 will be the first day of school and the final day will move from June 13 to June 7.

The vote came after several committee members questioned the purpose of the October break, which fell on the first week of the month. While many Aroostook schools still break for the potato harvest in late September and early October, that was not the point of Limestone’s break, since the school only teaches pre-K to grade eight students.

Instead, noted Principal Ben Lothrop, the break was intended to give students downtime after the first five weeks of school. Teachers also benefit from extra time to plan lessons after having learned more about their students’ strengths and challenges, he said.

“One week off allows teachers to take a breather and go ‘OK, these are the students I have and this is how I best move forward,'” Lothrop said.

But committee member Amanda Smith noted that the odd timing of the fall break has made it difficult for many parents to arrange for childcare. 

Many Limestone residents, including Smith, work for the local branch of Defense Finance Accounting Service, or DFAS, which provides financial services for the U.S. Air Force, Air National Guard and other military entities. The school’s October break occurs when DFAS employees work on closing yearly accounts, Smith said.

“I work there and I know other parents work crazy hours that week,” Smith said.

Committee member Meagan Malena related similar challenges.

“My childcare is my mother but she works [at DFAS], so I usually end up calling many friends to find someone to take care of my kids that week,” Malena said.

The committee chose Friday, June 7, 2024 as the final school day to hopefully prevent the year from extending into the following week if snow days become necessary. Limestone adds an extra day to the final week of school to make up days canceled due to weather.

In other business, Superintendent William Dobbins and committee members agreed to pursue American Rescue Plan Act funds from county government.

After being awarded $13 million of the federal COVID-19 relief funds, county administrators chose to allocate $6.5 million toward a grant program that municipalities and nonprofits must apply for.

The Aroostook County Commissioners voted last year to award the first round of grants, totaling $2.1 million, to 15 municipalities and nonprofits for infrastructure upgrades, environmental cleanups, broadband expansion and other projects. Another $2.1 million will be awarded in 2023 and 2024.

Limestone could apply on behalf of the school to replace the town pool’s filtration system, estimated to cost between $85,000 to $90,000, according to Dobbins, who is one of three county commissioners.

Limestone Recreation Department shares the pool with Limestone Community School and the Maine School of Science and Mathematics, all of which are located in the same building. The pool has been closed since January, when officials discovered burst pipes and dysfunctional valves in the filtration system.

Dobbins also suggested applying for American Rescue Plan Act funds to purchase a new exhaust system for a backup generator, estimated to cost between $90,000 and $100,000. The generator would be used if the school became an emergency shelter.

Committee member Grace O’Neal suggested reaching out to the Maine School of Science and Mathematics Foundation about potential funding or partnering with MSSM on either project application.

“For either of these projects, MSSM would benefit,” O’Neal said.

The next regular Limestone Community School committee meeting will occur at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, March 8, in the school’s administrative conference room.