In RSU 20

Board weighing options for Stockton school

Ideas include closure to expanding use of building
By Tanya Mitchell | Sep 12, 2012
Photo by: Tanya Mitchell RSU 20 Director Sharon Catus weighs in during the discussion regarding the future of Stockton Springs Elementary School during the board meeting at Belfast Area High School Tuesday, Sept. 11.

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.



Comments (6)
Posted by: TROY HOWARD MIDDLE SCHOOL | Sep 13, 2012 22:28

Do you get that that frame of thinking is like if they moved a grade a year out of Northport or East Belfast into CASS and then said, "Well, it's a small school anyway, let's close it!"

Posted by: Jeff Davis | Sep 13, 2012 20:27

A sense of community is a feeling that one is in some manner responsible for the well being of others in the community. I'm not sure where Mr. Richardson got his original quote, but I assume it is the same argument applied to those wishing to keep the Frankfort school opened. Nostalgia is guiding our desires to not see our schools go away and our reluctance to accept the fact that our children are better off with them. This is not the case. It is simply a matter of local control. I live in Stockton and although I have no school-aged children, I have a vested interest. I have a grandson in another town and I pay shoreline property taxes. I only note the shoreline part, because they are so high. When my children were in school, I owned no property and they went to school on my neighbors dime. Now I have a moral obligation to support the schools.

I know some people believe as Mr. Richardson believes; that test scores for early elementary school children have no value and that a success in one town does not warrant an investment from another. But I also know that conventional science indicates that early childhood testing is a vital part of a child's educational success and high test scores in a school are an indication that children are receiving the education the taxpayers are financing.

Local control of your school lessens the number of people you have to encounter who believe such foolishness as Mr. Richardson, thus making it easier for those of us with a sense of community to look after the best interest of our neighbor's children.

However, unless the former MSAD 34 pulls out, the RSU is here to stay. Based on the Union as it stands today, I believe option three is the better of the choices. It allows us to keep our school, provides a needed service and offers relief to the school budget. Mr. Carpenter has come up with good options. I appreciate his interest in our children and he has my support.

Posted by: Kathleen Perkins | Sep 13, 2012 19:49

I don't think test scores are silly - how do potential parents or community members know how their schools are performing without some type of benchmarks.  I don't think bigger schools are the answer because many children feel overwhelmed and unimportant in bigger schools.  There would be more opportunities in the bigger schools such as bullying and negative behaviors.  I am sorry to read that you don't feel that all students in our schools deserve the same opportunities.  Why should students not have the same choices as others within the same public school system?

Posted by: Harold Richardson | Sep 13, 2012 11:52

Regardless of where the other kids went, if we are keeping a school open that has just 38 kids left it's an obscene waste of money.  I'm not asking for the wasted money to be refunded to the taxpayers, I'd like to see the money used wisely to help educate all of the kids fairly across the district.  Test scores?  That's a bit silly isn't it-they are 1-3 graders.  They'd do just fine in a bigger school and they'll have more opportunities as well.  Classes and sports cannot be made available to all evenly across the district when there are schools with just 38 kids in them-you are reinforcing my point.     

Posted by: Kathleen Perkins | Sep 13, 2012 09:09

There are only 38 kids left because three classes and about 30 kids have been systemically moved to another school.  This school also has some of the highest test scores in the district - so something was being done correctly.  You may not want to pay for it thru your poperty taxes, but I feel that I should not be paying for classes and sports that are only available to certain students and not open to all students in the RSU.

Posted by: Harold Richardson | Sep 12, 2012 19:40

This article reinforces my issues with the current make-up of RSU20 and the previous discussion.  If I read this correctly-we have a school with just 38 kids left in it.  Instead of closing this school and saving a bunch of money that could be better used for educating the hundreds of kids in the district, they are trying to come up with plans in how to keep it going.  It makes no sense.  I understand a town not wanting to lose its "sense of community" whatever that is but the good people of Belfast shouldn't be paying for it thru their property taxes.     

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