Board weighing options for Stockton schoolIdeas include closure to expanding use of building
Belfast — Regional School Unit 20 Superintendent Brian Carpenter launched what is expected to be an ongoing discussion regarding the fate of the Stockton Springs Elementary School Tuesday night, Sept. 11.
Carpenter and Board Chairman Tony Bagley introduced the topic during the regular Board of Directors meeting, which took place at Belfast Area High School.
SSES was formerly a pre-K-5 school that now serves grades 1-3. Carpenter said the incremental transfer of grade levels from the Stockton School to Searsport Elementary in recent years cannot continue, and the time has come for the directors to make a decision about the future of the Stockton school.
"What we have now is death by attrition," said Carpenter.
Carpenter said the eventual "death" of SSES 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.
Carpenter presented four possible courses of action for directors to consider:
• Move ahead with the procedure to close SSES;
• Return SSES to a pre-K-5 school by returning all Stockton Springs students to SSES and combining grades;
• Restoring SSES to a pre-K-5 by returning all students from SES, utilizing combined grades and expanding use of the building with for-profit three-year-old program that Carpenter explained would be operated like an education-based daycare, or;
• Make SSES a pre-K-2 school with grades 3-5 going to SES and adding a three-year-old program.
"With 38 students there, we've got to really look at what we're doing," said Carpenter.
Director Sharon Catus, who represents Stockton Springs and has a child attending school at SSES, expressed concern about the size of the two existing classes of second graders at Searsport Elementary. Catus, citing enrollment figures that Carpenter presented earlier in the meeting, noted SES now has two second grade classes that each have 17 students. With the addition of the 14 second graders now housed at SSES, the number of second graders in Searsport would jump to 48.
"The impact on second graders is huge in my opinion," said Catus.
Catus said enrollments at the Stockton Springs school have dwindled in recent years, but that the decline is partially due to the transfer of some grade levels to Searsport in recent years.
"We have been disassembled, piece-by-piece," she said. "We've lost staff because of that, we've lost students because of that."
Catus said some Stockton Springs parents have moved their children to private schools, while others, like one family with six school-aged children, have chosen home schooling.
Catus said out of all the courses of action presented Tuesday, she found the option to restore the pre-K-5 program and open a for-profit daycare program the most favorable.
"We need to be able to say to people, 'We have a community school, we have what you're looking for,'" said Catus.
Director Orya Shomron said he also favored the third option because it would give the town's younger children a jump-start on their educations. He also questioned what options were available for daycare in that area of the district, and Bagley said there is a need for daycare not only in Stockton Springs, but in Searsport as well.
Catus said Stockton Springs has not had a daycare in town for at least four years, and Bagley said offering that service to families may be another factor that draws more families in to the district.
Shomron expressed concern about making a decision regarding the Stockton school before the ongoing withdrawal process is completed. All of the former SAD 34 towns — with the exception of Swanville — have successfully voted to explore withdrawing from RSU 20.
"Can the RSU make this kind of decision with the instability of the RSU itself?" he asked.
Bagley asked Carpenter to set up a workshop in Stockton Springs aimed at generating discussion about the four options presented Tuesday and collecting new ideas from the public for the future of SSES.
"We may come up with a whole different course of action," said Bagley.