Stockton Springs residents support returning students to SSESSuperintendent cautions option is dependent on withdrawal efforts
Stockton Springs — Between 20 and 30 residents turned out Thursday night, Oct. 4, to offer their comments about the possible future of the Stockton Springs Elementary School, and all who addressed the RSU 20 Board of Directors indicated that they wanted to save their community school.
The forum, which the RSU 20 Board hosted at SSES, was intended to gauge the residents’ feelings about the four courses of action RSU 20 Superintendent Brian Carpenter proposed for the elementary school at a September Board meeting.
SSES was formerly a pre-K-5 school and now serves grades 1-3. In September, 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.
Also at that time 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.
The four options for the school include:
• Moving ahead with the procedure to close SSES;
• Returning 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, 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 SSES a pre-K-2 school with grades 3-5 going to SES and adding a 3-year-old program.
At Thursday’s nearly two-hour forum, RSU 20 Board Chairman Tony Bagley told residents nothing is carved in stone at this stage.
“These are only ideas,” he said.”No decisions will be made tonight.”
After outlining the four options, Bagley sought questions and suggestions from the residents.
Resident Jeff Davis asked Carpenter how likely the board was to make a decision about the school that was largely based on the wishes of the residents.
“What are the chances of the board going with plan three over plan one,” asked Davis, referring to the to the options to return K-5 students to SSES with the addition of pre-K and a 3-year-old program and the option to close the school, respectively.
“The Board of Directors expressed support for plan three,” said Bagley.
All of the residents who expressed a preference indicated they supported the third course of action.
Stockton Springs Selectwoman Leslie Cosmano asked about how the 3-year-old program would be funded.
“Is it going to be self-supporting?” asked Cosmano.
“If we have enough students it would be self-supporting,” said Carpenter, noting that revenues would be used to support ongoing RSU 20 programs. The daycare, if opened, would be open for 50 weeks out of the year, Carpenter said, and would bring in about $150 per week, per child.
One resident said she preferred to see the board pursue option three because it would keep siblings together and avoid sending pre-K students to Searsport. Another woman in the audience suggested the district allow those fourth-graders who are going into the fifth grade next year to remain at Searsport Elementary, because those children have already experienced a great deal of transition in their grade-years.
Others expressed interest in seeing the district explore the Montessori model for the 3-year-old program or some other educationally-based program for those younger learners.
RSU 20 Director Sharon Catus noted that the Bank of America daycare center is set to close in June, and suggested some of those families might benefit from a daycare at SSES. Carpenter said he feels the district could attract enough children to sustain the daycare, because of the planned closing of the Bank of America daycare and the lack of daycare providers in the Stockton Springs area.
Others asked whether the daycare would serve children with special needs, and Carpenter said it would.
“The sooner I get a student into the classroom, the sooner I can recognize the needs of that student,” said Carpenter, adding that early identification could reduce that student’s need for special services down the road.
Catus said offering families a school where their children could remain in their community from age 3 up through the fifth grade would be a good way to attract more young families to Stockton Springs.
“That’s almost a decade of stability,” she said.
When asked about who might operate the daycare, Carpenter said the district has the option of contracting with an organization like Broadreach or Waldo County Head Start, but it could also run the daycare in-house. The costs associated with each option are not yet known, said Carpenter, and would require further exploration.
But later in the meeting, Carpenter called attention to the ongoing withdrawal efforts of the six former SAD 34 towns, all of which are in various stages of exploring withdrawing from RSU 20. Also, residents in the town of Frankfort will vote on a withdrawal plan for their children to leave the RSU with the intention of joining the Hampden-based RSU 22.
“It’s going to impact the remaining towns,” said Carpenter, adding that if some or all of those towns withdraw, that could have a negative impact on the district’s resources and by extension, any plans for SSES. “… Searsport and Stockton Springs could be looking at a stand-alone [district].”
As the forum drew to a close, Carpenter said he would have cost estimates for each of the courses of action completed within a month, but noted that any final decision about SSES would hinge on whether voters in the former SAD 34 towns decide to withdraw.
When asked if the Board would hold another public hearing after the cost estimates are complete, Carpenter said, “I don’t see why there couldn’t be.”
Bagley closed the meeting by thanking the residents for their participation, and those in attendance expressed gratitude to the Board and the RSU administrators for presenting the four options and bringing the public into the initial discussion phase.