A word from across the river on RSU 20 issues

By Dr. Veronica G. Magnan Ed.D | Jan 16, 2014

RSU 20 is a school district under extreme stress. There are too many members of the board of directors, too many plans and too much interference from withdrawal committees and now there is a think tank.

In short, it will be very difficult to select a plan that will satisfy anyone. With that said, it would be a very good time for any plan under consideration in the near future to exclude any closures of the Searsport campus. It is time for the RSU Board to consider how they would restructure the schools in the former SAD 34. This will be an upcoming issue for the goals of the withdrawal committee especially if they succeed in driving away Searsport and Stockton Springs. It remains to be seen how they will be able to keep all those buildings open on what those of us in the former SAD 56 call “the other side of the river”.

This side of the river, Searsport and Stockton Springs, have had enough ravaging of our former school district. Frankfort, through an inspired initiative, withdrew from RSU 20 feeling that they were not being treated fairly and sensing the “writing on the wall” for towns and schools in the former SAD 56. With Frankfort gone and the closing of the Stockton Springs Elementary, we have only the Searsport campus as a local school system for our children. We are as proud of our schools as Belfast is of theirs, and we feel our middle and high schools are structured to address the learning needs of all of the children and we organize our programs and instruction around a standards-based curriculum. We should not have to give up our plans for our children.

For the past three years, I have worked with parents of children, first in Stockton Springs and later in Searsport, to try to come up with a plan to keep our campus and our instructional plans in place for our children. But the need to plan, while interesting to the administration and not recognized as a town select board problem, did not seem to be pressing. Still the process had started and we would like to continue exploring ways to keep our small school system alive and vibrant. We need more time. We need the Searsport campus to remain in place while we explore STEM and Marine and Bay Studies, inviting international students from China and perhaps other countries, and relying on our resources as we did for so many years, successfully. We should be able to remain a vibrant school system. We have three things that would support our efforts. If necessary, we are close enough to two larger systems for sharing resources. We have a recently renovated complex that could welcome a good number more students. And we have a tax base between the two towns that would allow us that independence. We have the possibility of having a closed system like an “island” right here in the shores of the bay.

Since the issue of the failure of the Belfast withdrawal committee and the subsequent realization of the power of the overwhelming numbers of former SAD 34 members on the RSU 20, the simple dissolution of the former SAD 56, presently the Searsport campus, can be done as easily as an Alka Seltzer in a glass of warm water. One vote and we are dissolved. Since this realization and the increased interest by the select boards of the towns, petitions are already prepared for our own subsequent withdrawal effort. With the proper number of signatures in place, we may be able to get a legal stay, if forced to keep our school alive for the future. It should not come to that.

Searsport and Stockton Springs have remained outside of the clishmaclaver of the Belfast withdrawal committee and all it has said and done in the past few years. But we have listened and heard, without a shadow of a doubt, that Belfast feel superior to us and our efforts and it is clear to us that they would be glad to become a beneficent “big brother” to us and take care of all our educational woes. We do not whine when things do not go our way. That is our independence showing, not a sign of weakness. We have managed to maintain our budgets and have not benefited from new football helmets or more than a single art teacher for grades K-12 or even a fully paid coaching staff. We gave up a great food service program for efficiency and regret it every day. When our teachers were finally paid at parity with the former SAD 34 teachers, there was quite an uproar from the former SAD 34, as if our teachers did not deserve to have parity. And on and on, including the casual comment relayed to me that too many people here feel our children will not be welcome in the schools of Belfast and would be treated like second class citizens.

And so now we have passed over the educational and financial issues to the core of all that has been happening. The issues between the former SAD 56 and SAD 34 have become emotional and concern our independent identity, pride of place and local history. Right at this point in the chaos of the RSU 20, it would be unreasonable to think that any involvement in the Searsport campus by the RSU 20 closures would lead to a smooth finish to the present school year or the successful absorption of the students of the Searsport campus into the Belfast schools.

It is time for the Belfast members of the RSU 20 to give the same time consideration to the communities of Searsport and Stockton Springs, that they have done for the Belfast withdrawal committee and the new think tank. The Searsport and Stockton Springs communities need time to figure out how we want to proceed and see how much fence mending can be done in that time to, perhaps, come to a level of cooperation never yet attained by the grand RSU 20 consolidation effort and especially its promise.

Dr. Veronica G. Magnan Ed.D, of Stockton Springs, is a former teacher, principal and superintendent of schools, SAD 56 School Board Director. She is currently an educational consultant and community volunteer.

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