St. George delays school district withdrawalCommittee suggests remaining on two-track approach for the present
St. George — Town officials in St. George will hold off on withdrawal from Regional School Unit 13 until further information is available following meetings in early 2013.
The St. George Select Board was briefed by town education committee members Nov. 19 on projections concerning district withdrawal following public acceptance of a non-binding referendum Nov. 6.
Although the town voted to accept the option of withdrawal, the select board is tasked with making final decision on how to proceed.
Education Committee Chairman Terry Driscoll said the committee currently favors following a two-track approach, continuing to collaborate with the school board and Superintendent Lew Collins to address issues imperative to improving local education. Driscoll said he received a telephone call from RSU 13 School Board Chairman Tess Kilgour and said the conversation was positive.
Formal discussions between the committee and district administration are expected in January with the critical contention being the varying definition of educational equity — described as a "slippery concept" by Driscoll. "It's a tough, but critical battle," he said.
Driscoll said as St. George yields $4.2 million to the district each year, the town wants to see metrics in place to evaluate progress and allow for accountability.
Committee member Don Choquette said a lot of "fat" has been taken out the budget, but said finance is still a looming issue, adding that money is spent in the wrong places, when additional courses and educators should be incorporated into the curriculum.
The committee also wants to ensure the town has rights pertaining to grade re-assignments, allowing a town vote to maintain grades in town schools.
Interest is also centered in identifying academic needs and partnering with town organizations such as Herring Gut Learning Center and the Jackson Memorial Library to mitigate deficiencies and perhaps offer remedial summer courses.
These efforts would be supplemental programs not affiliated with the district.
One issue requiring immediate address is whether sending St. George students to other local high schools by tuition is feasible. This option becomes a reality only if the town pursues district withdrawal. The tuition rate is set by the state.
Driscoll said the committee needs an informal "yes" from schools to accept St. George students in order to proceed, and without it, pushing forward with district withdrawal "would be silly."
Driscoll said he has not been in contact with schools yet.
The committee will approach the select board again in February or March with a progress update and added it would behoove the board to consider preparing for formal withdrawal, including forming a withdrawal committee consisting of members with diverse and necessary skill sets to undertake the enormous task if needed.
The committee said St. George has received attention as a result of the referendum, citing School Board Member Loren Andrews' letter of support for collaboration. In the letter, Andrews urged the education committee and town to work with the board to address concerns.
"You all contribute greatly to our district now, and I don't want to lose you. We are stronger together and weaker apart. Let's keep working together," Andrews said in the letter.
School board member and St. George resident Sherman Hoyt said Collins is "the best [superintendent] I've seen in 20 years," and is confident positive changes will be accomplished, albeit there is "a long way to go."
Driscoll said there is a sense of goodwill between the school board and the education committee and a willingness to collaborate that wasn't apparent previously.
Courier Publications reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 118 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.