Belfast withdrawal committee talks reorganization, options for including SAD 56 towns in plans

By Ben Holbrook | Dec 24, 2013

Belfast — The Belfast withdrawal committee discussed the plans selected by Regional School Unit 20 board members to potentially consolidate the district, and how the city could proceed with its efforts to leave.

At the beginning of the meeting, committee members discussed the recent think tank meeting, during which representatives from Belfast, Belmont, Morrill, Northport, Searsmont, Stockton Springs and Swanville talked about the possible reorganization of the district.

Belfast withdrawal committee member Wayne Corey, who also participated in the think tank discussion, said he felt comments made about merging Belfast Area High School and Searsport High School made sense and such an option would be beneficial to the district.

Corey continued by stating he would like to give representatives from Searsport the chance to discuss the prospect of combining high schools. Sanders suggested the RSU 20 superintendent and Searsport High School Principal could be invited to the next think tank meeting to discuss the topic of merging high schools.

Members of the RSU 20 school board selected three consolidation plans for further study. Board members selected plan three, which would involve closing Searsport High School and Middle School; Edna Drinkwater in Northport; East Belfast; Nickerson in Swanville and Weymouth in Morrill.

The district would establish a regional middle school for students in grades 5-8; a regional high school for grades 9-12; and three regional elementary schools in Searsmont, Belfast and Searsport.

Plan five would involve keeping both of the high schools open, but the schools would assume identities as “focus schools.” Drinkwater, Nickerson and Weymouth would all be closed under the plan.

Finally, board members selected a third option, dubbed “Plan Steve,” after Director Steve Hopkins of Belmont proposed studying the cost of closing Nickerson, Searsport High School and Middle School and Weymouth.

While merging the schools could help bring relief to property owners in the district, Sanders reminded committee members that no matter what happens regarding a reorganization of the district, the committee must still submit the best possible plan for the city to withdraw.

Searsmont resident and former superintendent Carol Robbins, who was in attendance for the meeting, suggested the city and other towns looking at withdrawal could consider what she referred to as the “Camden model.”

Under such a model, the towns could run their own schools in each town and educate students in K-8. The students in each of the towns would then attend a regional high school for grades 9-12. Sanders said such a model could work, his only concern was that schools such as Ames, Nickerson and Weymouth are not outfitted to educate students beyond grade 5.

He then suggested having the towns educate students in their own schools in K-5, and then have students attend a regional middle school and a regional high school.

Sanders commented that such a model would mean the towns could decide whether or not they want to bear the costs keeping the school in their town open or not. He said such a plan could even be written in a way that could include the towns of Searsport and Stockton Springs.

Later on in the meeting, Sanders made a comment that the withdrawal efforts by the towns to get out of RSU 20 are due to the current state of the district, and not any desire to break away from Searsport and Stockton Springs.

“We're not withdrawing from Searsport and Stockton Springs, we're withdrawing from RSU 20 in its current state,” he said.

After more discussion about having conversations between representatives from Searsport and Stockton Springs about possible reorganization options, and a suggestion to invite school board members to a meeting with members of the think tank, the meeting adjourned.

No specific date was set for the next Belfast withdrawal meeting.

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Ben Holbrook
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Ben Holbrook is a reporter for The Republican Journal covering general news.

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