RSU 20 think tank releases final report with suggestions for keeping district intact
Members of the Regional School Unit 20 think tank group released a report with recommendations that included keeping the district intact, while allowing each town to consider operating their own elementary schools.
The report is the culmination of two meetings of the think tank, which was comprised of residents from Belfast, Belmont, Morrill, Northport, Searsmont, Searsport, Stockton Springs and Swanville. As stated in the report, the purpose of the think tank was to “share concerns and ideas with the goal of reaching consensus regarding the future direction of RSU 20.”
The first recommendation made by the think tank was to keep RSU 20 intact and transform it into a “destination district” in an effort to attract new residents and economic development opportunities to the area.
Recognizing that RSU 20 is in a state of uncertainty as all eight member towns look to potentially withdraw, and the school board is considering possible consolidation options that could result in the closing of schools, the think tank recommended pursuing options that would ensure the district remains viable for the long-term.
In regards to the issue of consolidation, the think tank consolidating the high schools and middle schools into the facilities in Belfast. The report notes that such an option could be “upsetting” to Searsport and Stockton Springs residents and students, but it would be less disruptive to the district overall, as opposed to other consolidation plans that would close a number of elementary schools.
Members of the think tank also stated in the report they believe elementary students should be educated as locally as is financially possible, and there should be emphasis on keeping those schools open. The report suggests giving towns the option to explore running their own elementary schools under a separate organizational structure.
The report includes a suggestion to look into offering a pre-kindergarten program at each of the elementary schools because of the positive impact such programs have, as well as their ability to generate additional revenue.
Other recommendations in the report include a suggestion to move forward with the consolidation process as quickly as possible, and to make sure residents are aware of the potential cost savings and education benefits that would result from consolidating. The report notes that drawing out consolidation efforts will most likely result in greater support for the withdrawal efforts in each of the towns.
The report concludes with recommendations for the district to submit a request to the state for the construction of a new regional high school as soon as possible, due to lengthy delays in receiving funding; and to consider reducing the number of board members by changing to a district/sub-district organizational scheme.
Finally the think tank suggested the district should create an ad hoc committee of interested residents who would provide input to the board in regards to strategic planning and consolidation efforts.
The report was signed by Gene Newton of Belmont, Mike Hurley of Belfast, Wayne Corey of Belfast, Larry Theye of Belfast, Randy Place of Morrill, Sandy Wallace of Northport, Carol Robbins of Searsmont and Bruce Mailloux of Swanville. Although Jeff Davis of Stockton Springs and Dustin Nadeua of Searsport participated in the think tank, neither of them signed the report.
Copies of the report were provided to the RSU 20 Board of Directors at their regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday, Jan. 14.
Ben Holbrook is a reporter for The Republican Journal covering general news.
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