Residents: Long-term plan needed to merge middle schoolsThomaston Grammar School would close
Thomaston — Parents and teachers said March 18 the current proposal to merge middle schools is rushed and they would be more supportive of consolidating if the district had a long-range plan.
About 40 people, including Regional School Unit 13 board members, parents and teachers attended the first of three public forums to gather input from the community on a proposal to have fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-grade students attend Rockland District Middle School. Under this proposal, Thomaston Grammar School would close.
Two more meetings are planned for Tuesday, March 25, at Cushing Community School and Wednesday, April 2 at Rockland District Middle School. Both meetings begin at 6:30 p.m.
The RSU 13 Board is expected to make a decision on whether or not to consolidate for the 2014-2015 school year at its Thursday, April 3 meeting. It begins at 6:30 p.m. at McLain School in Rockland.
Merger by the numbers
129 —Thomaston Grammar School
194 — Rockland District Middle School
27 — Owls Head Central School
350 total students to move to Rockland
Under the proposal, 129 Thomaston Grammar School, and 27 Owls Head Central School fifth-graders would all attend Rockland District Middle School. St. George School students in those grades would remain in Tenants Harbor.
St. George School, which has at total of 160 kindergarten to seventh-grade students, has been working on a proposal to withdraw from the district and operate independently. The proposal is currently being negotiated with the district, but voters could decide on the issue in November 2014.
"I'm really against it at this point — it's putting the cart before the horse when we do not have a long-range plan," said Cynthia McGuirl of Thomaston.
A lot of promises were made about improved programs and services for students when the two districts merged and it did not happen, she said.
"What guarantee do we have that we will see these potential improvements in education?" McGuirl questioned. "More opportunities have not materialized."
Thomaston Grammar School music teacher Angela Johnson said she does see pluses to consolidating, but questioned if the district has a plan.
Johnson said the district has moved students a lot already and there also has been talk of returning Oceanside High School East to a traditional ninth through 12th-grade school. Currently, freshmen students attend Oceanside High School West in Thomaston.
"Is Rockland middle school really large enough for us to merge?" Johnson questioned.
She was concerned about moving special education and LifeSkills programs close to each other in the new school because one group can be loud, while the other group cannot really tolerate noise.
Joanna Duke, a physical education teacher at RDMS, said she is concerned that with a merged school she will see even less time with students and also concerned about cuts that will be made in staff.
"I hope the schedule will benefit students in allied arts," Duke said.
One student from Cushing, who said she lives at the end of the peninsula on a dead-end road, questioned how long her commute would be. She also said it may be a difficult transition for students are are used to going to a small school to now instead be sent to a very large school.
Patricia Hubbard of Thomaston suggested hiring an outside consultant to to come in and look at the district as a whole. As a taxpayer, she said, she is worried about the resale on her home because families are not moving to the district.
"They think it's totally dysfunctional and I agree," Hubbard said. "I encourage the school board to stop and take a breath."
Hubbard said no one has even seen a full disclosure of the financial benefits of merging the two schools.
"To say you are going to make a decision on April 3 is irresponsible," she said.
Rev. Peter Jenks of Thomaston said the communities are very supportive of young people, but there is a school district that does not support that. He also noted there is no long-term vision. He said Thomaston residents have felt alienated ever since the two districts consolidated and this middle school plan is furthering that sentiment.
The community would get behind anything if it was an exciting plan for the kids, Jenks said.
"We want what is best for our kids. We will do what is best for our kids, but we want a long-range plan," he said.
A survey to gather public input is also available online at surveymonkey.com/s/MiddleSchoolMerger and RSU 13 also has a Facebook page, which can be found at facebook.com/pages/RSU-13/121885347830570?ref=br_rs
NOTE: An earlier version of this story indicated St. George fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-graders are also part of the proposed merger. Incorrect information was given to the paper.
Courier Publications Copy Editor Kim Lincoln can be reached at 594-4401 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.