In an email sent out to Sanford City officials Sunday, Sanford School Department Superintendent Matt Nelson provided a detailed account of the city’s response to the arrival of 23 asylum-seeking families from Angola.
“Over the past week, new immigrant families from Angola arrived unexpectedly in the Sanford area,” Nelson said in the email.
“As families arrived, the General Assistance office worked to find temporary housing at the Sanford Inn and provided resources to help the families meet their basic needs,” he said. “Our outreach and ESOL staff immediately began the process of connecting with the families to welcome them to our community and to begin the registration process.”
Although taken by surprise, Nelson wrote that the General Assistance office worked to place the migrants in temporary housing at the already near-capacity Sanford Inn.
After realizing the scale of the situation on Thursday, Nelson met with local agencies, city leaders, and school staff in order to coordinate resources and support for the migrant families.
These coordination meetings will continue to meet on a weekly basis going forward, he said.
Following this meeting, the Sanford School Department held a large registration event Friday at Sanford High School and Sanford Regional Technical center.
“In total, we registered all of the students who had arrived as of Thursday to the best of our knowledge,” Nelson said.
The total number of students registered at Friday’s event was 23, the majority of whom were non-English speakers with Portuguese being their primary language.
School Department staff working the registration event provided the migrants with brownies, cookies, toiletries, coloring books, and even shoes for some students.
Nelson said the next step is to screen the registered students to determine their “level of need and to guide placement,” a process which will begin on Monday, May 8.
The Sanford School Department will hold on a meeting on Tuesday, May 9 at 11 a.m. at the Sanford School Department Central Office and on Zoom, in order to plan a “successful school entry plan for students,” Nelson added.
The Department’s current plan is to place students at Sanford High School, Sanford Middle school, and Margaret Chase Smith School, and have the students begin by the end of this week.
At the end of the email, Nelson included that an unspecified number of additional families arrived on Friday and over the weekend, confirming rumors that migrant families have continued to arrive to Sanford unexpectedly.
“The Sanford Inn is at or near capacity, so we are anticipating that this initial wave will subside in the coming days,” Nelson said.
The cost of accepting asylum seekers
As Sanford City officials struggle to find housing for the additional migrants, Sanford residents could bear the burden of increased property taxes as a result of 23 new ESL students entering their district.
In June of last year, the Portland City Council approved a $269 million budget for 2023, which included a 4.8 percent increase on property taxes.
Portland City officials raised the property tax rate in order to help fund additional resources to help the homeless and asylum seekers flooding into the city.
The town of Brunswick is also currently considering a more than 7 percent increase in property taxes to accommodate the influx of children of asylum-seekers into the school district.
In addition to education costs, Sanford residents will pay for these Angolan migrant families’ housing, food, and other basic necessities through General Assistance welfare, only a portion of which is shared by the state. The adults may not be eligible to work legally for as long as six months under current federal rules.
According to the Maine Department of Education, the average per pupil spending in Sanford Public Schools for 2021-2022 was $15,130.
This would place the cost of the 23 registered students at approximately $347,990, though costs of ESL students tend to be significantly higher.
In the 2021-2022 year, the General Fund at the school and district level made up 81.4% of total district funding, with federal grants being 17.1%, and state and local grants 1.5%.
Preliminary 2022-2023 data from the Department of Education recommends an allocation of $50,413,583 to Sanford Public Schools, with $12,461,404 of that amount being locally contributed from property taxes.
Depending on how much of the additional $347,990 burden is taken on locally, the local budgetary contribution could increase by up to 2.79%.
Property taxes help fund this local contribution.
Although Sanford officials say the local inn reaching capacity will stop the flow of migrants into the city, the lack of shelter space in Portland and South Portland has not stopped the in-migration to those cities. There’s no reason to believe a shortage of beds will stop new migrants from arriving in Sanford seeking accommodations.
Sanford taxpayers could soon feel the cost of a continuous stream of migrant families entering their public schools and subsidized housing.
How did the migrants reach Sanford?
With Sanford Superintendent Matt Nelson caught off guard by this recent wave of migrants, it remains unclear who paid for these families to travel to Sanford, and which city officials agreed to take them in unbeknownst to the Superintendent.
Although a spokesperson from the city of Portland initially told the Maine Wire that city officials there had no involvement in the relocation of asylum-seekers to Sanford, at least one of the families was sheltered in Portland prior to arriving in Sanford.
A source fluent in Portuguese and Spanish, who asked to remain anonymous, and who has spoken with migrant families, said one family they spoke with arrived in Portland three months ago.
“These are not new arrivals,” the source said.
John Mohan, New England Public Affairs Officer of the U.S. Immigration and and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), responded to questions from the Maine Wire by saying ICE “had no involvement in nor any information relating to this reported incident.”
The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to an inquiry asking whether that agency was involved with the families’ relocation.