Better coordination could save RSU 20

Last Wednesday I attended a Town Hall Meeting in Searsport, about improving their educational system. The entire talk was about helping students succeed whether they are college bound or vocationally bound. I wanted to know more about “Project Based Learning.” I learned about how Searsport and Stockton are using the town's resources to solve problems and learn curriculum from the history of the Penobscot Indian;  to saving the natural marine life from the green crabs, which are very present in the area; to coastal wetland studies, along with monitoring coastal vegetation and invertebrates with University of Maine at Machias; to Hamilton Marine donating a building for small ship building and educational learning; to learning from Sears Island; to utilizing the Seaport Marine Museum, better technology and vocational institutions. They also discussed how fewer teachers may be needed and how to pay for these improvements. This new system will include coordination with Maine Maritime, with the University of Maine, and countless educators who will donate their time and institutions which will give college credits. Then I was presented with STEM (science, technology, education and math) or a partnership with Bangor United Technology Center. The students may earn up to 27 college credits. Searsport has been planning every year toward making their school a magnet school and will have two groups of 25 Chinese students visiting this spring, some of whom will be starting school in Searsport next year, for additional revenue.

What has happened in Searsport is that when they joined RSU 20, their revenue was in the positive. Then the superintendent and school board went to Frankfort to close their school and when Frankfort withdrew Searsport lost $1.6 million. Then the board raised the teachers' contracts around $10,000 for each Searsport teacher, who worked for less than in Belfast. Now after Frankfort’s revenue is lost and the teachers’ salary increases to be the same as Belfast; this year we propose closing down their middle and high school and making those students go to Belfast in order to save our district money. Searsport is forced to go alone and they have to make plans. Their first step is to improve their educational system while Belfast withdraws without an educational plan and just says to trust Belfast to devise savings and improvements to be discussed later and that they hope other towns will join them or they will fund our own district of Belfast.

Searsport wants to work with Belfast but Belfast doesn’t want the educational coordination which should happen with an RSU, the special education coordination, the savings of combining administrative costs, a front office, technology and the other services we share. Withdrawal should not happen, but it will because a few will not make the attempt to save our RSU. We care so much about education that I alone was the only person to attend their meeting who wasn’t from Searsport or Stockton Springs. So I am again suggesting we tell Searsport we will not close down their schools and continue to work together for the benefit of our students so we will have a Belfast campus, and Searsport campus specializing in marine studies and project-based learning, and the vocational school campus. Students in the RSU can maximize their learning potential with any of these three campuses.

The next withdrawal meeting is in Belfast this Thursday at 5 p.m. We need to discuss that we will need to welcome other towns and what each town's board makes up will be with a new RSU. We need to go into each town and talk to each town about education and the place for each town’s school building. We need an educational team of citizens, as in Searsport, who will assess how education can be financially and educationally superior without Searsport. We need to apologize and thank Searsport and Stockton Springs as much as possible for taking away their schools and their revenues and welcome to assist Searsport as an equal partner because it looks like they are rapidly going past the so-called superior Belfast system and financially making their system work. Belfast is my town and right now, we are going alone somewhere, and I do want to know which educational direction. I suspect I am not the only person lost in this process.

Alan Wood