Board votes not to merge RSU 13 middle schools
Rockland — The Regional School Unit 13 Board voted April 3 against a proposal to merge the district's fifth to seventh-grades into one school.
The board voted 10 in favor with no one opposed not to consolidate with an abstention from South Thomaston representative Christine Curtis. Board member Esther "Tess" Kilgour of Rockland was absent.
The board held three public forums and had an online survey to gather input on whether to consolidate Rockland District Middle School and Thomaston Grammar School. In those meetings, the public voiced concern about the district's long-term vision.
Under the proposal, 129 Thomaston Grammar School, and 27 Owls Head Central School fifth-graders would have attended Rockland District Middle School, which has 194 students. St. George School students in those grades would remain in Tenants Harbor. Thomaston Grammar School would have closed. District officials have estimated the merger could save about $217,000 in operations and maintenance.
In the public comment section of the meeting, Thomaston Town Manager Valmore Blastow Jr. read a letter from the Board of Selectmen urging the district to postpone approval of the merger. He also stated the town requests formal notice of any decision to close any school in that town.
As of April 3, a total of 573 people had taken the online survey, of which 56 percent represented RSU 13 taxpayers. RSU 13 includes schools in Rockland, Thomaston, South Thomaston, Owls Head, St. George and Cushing.
Seventy-four percent of survey respondents said they would like more information on the district's plan for future reorganization, while 68 percent expressed a concern with class size, 61 percent on educational offerings, 56 percent on teacher impact, 54 percent on costs of consolidating and the length of the bus ride for students.
Seventy-eight percent of respondents said if consolidation were to take place, they would rather wait a year and have it occur for the 2015-2016 school year. Sixty-six percent said they would rather see sixth- and seventh-grades merged and leave fifth-graders at their community schools.
Rockland board representative Carol Bachofner said it is clear by those that attended the forums and took the survey that the district does not have enough information to make a proper decision on a merger.
"We need to find a solid reason to do it that isn't financial," she said.
Sherman Hoyt, a representative from St. George, said the district simply cannot afford operating 10 schools, but does not feel the district is ready to merge in the coming year. The district needs to continue to look at consolidation as an option, he said.
This is not the first time the board has voted to wait on a merger proposal.
The board voted in spring 2013 not to combine the schools to have more time to study the issue. Then, in August 2013, the board voted to combine the two schools and send ninth-graders to Oceanside High School East in Rockland, and to have the merger in place by the 2015-2016 school year.
At that time, the new middle school was defined as sixth, seventh, and eighth grade.
Board members also voted to have the Facilities Committee or a designated sub-committee of that group to follow the district's strategic plan and develop a five-year facilities plan, 10-year capital improvement plan, energy audit, and a grounds and fields study. The committee is to have a report ready by the September board meeting.
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