For the third straight meeting, the Orono School Board got an earful from residents regarding their mask wearing policy in school.

The meeting on Monday, Sept. 27 was similar to the previous two meetings, with most of the comments asking the board to let parents decide if and when their kids should wear a mask; but there was also comments thanking the board for the policy.

In the previous two meetings, the public comment period went for just over an hour; while this meeting’s public comment period lasted just over 30 minutes.

Ryan Hanney, who pulled his three kids from the district, said, “I know its difficult and I know you lost a lot of students from your district and that’s due to the decisions that have been made and those losses came from your funding. I understand that it’s a high probability that you decided to pursue funding from the federal government requiring mandating. If that’s that answer, if that’s why you are doing this, then just tell people that you don’t have an option because you can’t make your budget, you don’t have the money. If that’s it at least we understand why this is going on.”

Hanney continued, “What scares me the most is that there is so much divisiveness when everybody seems so certain of what they are analyzing. You should all know that there are clear indications that you should at least be questioning your decisions. And if you are questioning them, then people should have the right to choose what they feel is safe for their children. There is clearly data that there could be risks with the decisions that are being made with masks. It’s very obvious that it could at least be a problem and if you are mandating these masks, then you are putting these children at risk so you are putting the school at risk. I should have the right to make my own decisions for my own children and there shouldn’t be a mandate coming from you.”

Theresa Henkelman, who has two kids in the district asked the district to give the kids some social time together.

“Middle school seems to be following an even stricter guidance,” she said. “The moment my daughter heard she wasn’t eating in the lunch room as an eighth-grader she fell to the floor in tears. That’s were we talk about mental health. They have very little social times with their friends and lunch is one of them. Let’s allow our students these small moments. You guys are doing a lot to mitigate COVID but we can’t continue to put these social constraints on these kids. We have no idea what impact it will have other than what we see already.”

After the public comment period, the board moved on to the business of the board which included setting the preliminary tax levy for the upcoming year.

Jim Westrum, Orono’s interim director of business services, presented to the board the proposed 2021 payable 2022 property tax levy that called for a total levy increase of 4.75 percent over last year’s levy.

“The levy this year will simply reflect the current authority that the voters have granted the school district,” Westrum said.

Some of the highlights of Westrum’s presentation include - that voter approved levies decreased by $81,281 due to inflation adjustments from previous years; State Determined General Fund levy increased by $977,000 which includes Long term facilities maintenance revenue which is restricted by law to indoor air quality projects and replacement of building components exceeding their useful life; Community Service Fund increased by $8,706 and Debt Service Fund increased by $661 which say a total tax levy increase $905,348 or 4.75 percent increase.

School districts are required to certify a preliminary tax levy by Sept. 30. The levy may decrease when the board approves the final budget in December but the levy may not increase.

Orono Public Schools will hold its annual Truth-in-Taxation meeting will be held on Monday, Dec. 13, at 7 p.m.

“I appreciate your understanding of the fact that those numbers are moving targets and we want to be as prudent as possible in making sure we maximize entitlements while minimizing tax payer cost,” Westrum said. “The board is positioned quite well to continue to do due diligence through December.”

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