Public input on independent school district focuses on sports, arts
St. George — Retired teacher and education committee member Jennifer Garrett held a series of meetings this week to add input on how an independent school district should function if the town withdraws from Regional School Unit 13.
"it's basically like a divorce," she said Oct. 9 of the negotiating and debt figuring that will occur between the town and the district, basically a who-gets what.
The withdrawal committee is now developing the withdrawal agreement and preparing for negotiations.
Garrett said the meetings are to allow parents and citizens to voice their ideas and concerns so issues are addressed before withdrawal is an actuality.
"I haven't even hit 10 percent of families," she said, asking a group of seven at the last meeting what could be done to increase turnout.
Questions posed included what would happen with teachers at the school during the withdrawal. Garrett said nobody will lose their jobs if the town withdraws, and that by law, all contracts must be honored.
"Most teachers would like to stay," she added.
After a negotiated plan is created, allocating the building and buses, the agreement will be submitted to the state Commissioner of Education for approval. Final voting for withdrawal will most likely happen in November 2014, she said.
If accepted, St. George will become its own district starting July 2015, the beginning of the fiscal year.
The town needs 51 percent, roughly 700 residents, that voted in the last gubernatorial election to turn out at the polls to accept or deny withdrawal.
Some were concerned about amount of space in the St. George School and its effective use. Garrett said the population of students is expected to be maintained, with some influx, over the next decade.
Garrett said in previous meetings, parents were mostly concerned with sports programs, and maintaining programs now offered through RSU 13, including football. Questions surrounding this issue focused on whether the school could partner with other schools, and could parents have control over their child's inclusion on other teams. Other ideas expressed centered on providing tennis and sailing, programs already offered in the community, along with traditional seasonal sports offered previously in St. George.
Garrett said as of now, if St. George were to withdraw and keep the same programs and maintain the curriculum, taxes would stay the same.
"But we're trying to do more," she said.
Some wanted academic curriculum to be stronger, mandating core classes like math, English, science and social studies are taught everyday.
Others questioned what would happen with courses like world language, arts and music, and discussed whether some lessons would be integrated in other subjects, like a science project on wildflowers that included sketching, as was done with a third grade class.
Garrett said with RSU 13, more classes are offered at the high school level, but at the elementary and middle levels, allied arts have been cut because teachers are shared among schools.
Camden Hills Regional High School has been receptive to having St. George students transfer to their district when they reach the high school level. The state mandates St. George tuition students at $9,000 per student. Currently, $14,000 is spent on each child, Garrett said.
St. George would choose a "choice school," where an agreement is made between the town and a local high school to accept St. George students. Parents could still decide whether to send their child to another school, including a private institution, like Camden-based Watershed Community School. Garrett said St. George would be responsible for transporting students. The choice school agreement would last 10 years.
Oceanside would most likely be the choice school, if they were to accept the agreement, said Garrett.
Schools have the option of refusing to be the choice school.
More information on the progress of withdrawal can be found on the town's website.
Courier Publications' reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 118 or via email at email@example.com.
594-4401 ext. 118
Juliette primarily covers the cops and courts beat for The Courier-Gazette.
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