In RSU 20

Board to revisit talks on future of Stockton Springs Elementary

Costs of various options to be explored at Jan. 22 meeting
By Tanya Mitchell | Jan 16, 2013
Source: File image

Belfast — The Regional School Unit 20 Board of Directors will continue to discuss options for the use of Stockton Springs Elementary School later this month — possibilities that range from restoring the school to a pre-K-5 and adding a for-profit 3-year-old program to closing the school.

At the regular meeting Tuesday night, Jan. 8, RSU 20 Superintendent Brian Carpenter said he had pulled together cost analyses for each of the four courses of action the board presented to Stockton Springs residents during an information meeting on the topic last fall.

During the October meeting in Stockton Springs, Carpenter presented four options, or courses of action, for the school:

• Moving ahead with the procedure to close the Stockton Elementary School;

• Returning it to a pre-K to 5 school by returning all Stockton Springs students to the elementary school and combining grades;

• Restoring it to a pre-K to 5 by returning all students from Searsport Elementary School, using combined grades and expanding use of the building with a for-profit 3-year-old program that Carpenter explained would be operated like an education-based daycare, or

• Making Stockton Springs Elementary a pre-K to 2 school with grades 3 to 5 going to Searsport Elementary School and adding a 3-year-old program.

"When do you want to go back and address the issue with Stockton Springs?" Carpenter asked directors.

Carpenter offered two suggestions: That the board hold a special meeting for the sole purpose of discussing the potential future of the elementary school or that it dedicate much of the agenda for the next regular meeting Tuesday, Jan. 22, to the topic.

After a brief discussion, directors voted for the latter option and agreed to hold the meeting at Stockton Springs Elementary School.

"Is this going to be possible action?"  asked Director Stephen Hopkins.

"I would say this will be informational for them," said Board Chairman Tony Bagley.

Bagley said residents would have an opportunity to offer input at the Jan. 22 meeting and would also hear more detail about the costs associated with each of the four options. From there, Bagley said, the Finance Committee would review the options and comments from residents, and then return to the board with a recommendation.

RSU 20 Director Sharon Catus of Stockton Springs sought clarification on how the cost analyses would be presented to the public.

Carpenter said the presentation would include an estimate of how much the local mil rate might increase if the board chose to pursue three of the four scenarios, as well as what residents there might save if directors ultimately decided to close the school.

Those costs, added Carpenter, will take into account the curtailment on education spending that Gov. Paul LePage ordered at the end of December. According to documents detailing the curtailments for fiscal year 2012-13 on the governor's website, cuts to education spending across Maine total $12.6 million. LePage ordered the spending reduction in an effort to close a state budget gap of more than $35 million, according to the website.

Carpenter said those state spending cuts alone will leave district taxpayers kicking in more to cover the cost of local education, noting that the local contribution for education might go from the present mil rate of 7.69 up to as high as 8 mils.

"So there's an increase of half a mil right there without doing anything," said Carpenter.

Discussions about the future of Stockton Springs Elementary School first arose at a September directors meeting, at which time Carpenter said the incremental transfer of grade levels from the Stockton school to Searsport Elementary School in recent years could not continue, and the time had come for the directors to make a decision about the future of the school.

"What we have now is death by attrition," said Carpenter at the time.

Also at that time, Carpenter said the eventual "death" of Stockton Springs Elementary School by continuing to decrease the school population to the point that it no longer serves any Stockton Springs students violates state law. In addition, state law does not allow a school closure to move forward based solely on a vote from the RSU 20 Board of Directors.

In other news, directors:

• Heard a presentation from Assistant Superintendent John McDonald about school security. McDonald said since the tragedy at Newtown, Conn., doors at all schools remain locked during the day and all visitors must hit a buzzer at the entrance before being permitted into the buildings. McDonald said schools will remain on heightened security for the time being, and noted that funding for surveillance camera upgrades and more buzz-in locks will be included in the budget for the next school year;

• Approved the job description for an RSU 20 database manager, and;

• Learned that the district is working with attorney Dick Spencer from the Portland law firm of Drummond Woodsum to document the debts and assets of the RSU, information that will be included in the draft withdrawal plan for the former SAD 34 towns.

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