MONTICELLO — Potato farmers in the area served by SAD 29 who are worried about their student labor supply can relax. It will be 2001 before the school board again takes up the issue of the annual potato harvest recess.
With just one dissenting vote, the board Monday night approved a motion by Thomas Moakler of Houlton to continue the annual three-week break for students for the next three years. At that time, the issue will go before the board again for review.
About 50 people attended Monday’s meeting, cramming into a classroom meant to hold far fewer, and smaller, children.
Before the vote, there was little discussion by board members, which prompted one woman in the audience to quietly suggest that the outcome was a foregone conclusion.
Another woman, Tammy Scott of Houlton, presented a petition bearing 287 signatures to the board urging it to continue the three-week recess.
Three weeks earlier, about 50 people, most of them supporters of the break, attended a public hearing in Houlton to support continuation of what has been a tradition — and many say, a necessity — since after World War II.
Farmers and others at that hearing pointed out that student workers provide more that half of the labor force for farmers in the region, in part because there aren’t enough adults available who want to do the work.
Opponents, on the other hand, continued an argument that has been heard increasingly over the last several years that the break is a negative interruption in the education of children, and especially younger children in elementary school, the vast majority of whom do not work.
The board had five options to chose from at Monday’s meeting, perhaps the greatest number of alternatives that it has ever had. Besides keeping the recess, the board also could have eliminated it altogether.
Another suggestion made previously by Superintendent of Schools David Wiggin was to cut the harvest back to two weeks for junior and senior high school pupils and just one week for elementary pupils.
That would have resulted in two different starting times for the school year and would have increased operations costs by about $3,000.
The plan had a few supporters at the public hearing in December, but was overwhelmingly unpopular with teachers.
Cutting the break back to two weeks for all pupils also was an option. It wouldn’t have cost any more and would have added an extra week onto the summer vacation for everyone.
Yet another option that has been used in several other Aroostook County school systems was to keep the harvest break for junior and senior high pupils, but eliminate it for elementary pupils. That proposal carried a price tag of more than $10,000 extra.