With the total number of Camden Hills Regional High School students using Region 8 programming at the Mid-Coast School of Technology being the lowest of the seven sending schools, the technology school’s director touted the benefits of a vocational education at the Jan. 6 board meeting of the Five Town Community School District, which oversees Camden Hills.

In addition, the steering committee for the Many Flags, One Campus project gave an overview of the plans for a combined high school, vocational school and higher education facility in the Rockland and Thomaston area.

MCST Director Beth Fisher said she has been approached by people in the Camden area who question why students need the programs in Region 8 when there are such vast opportunities available at Camden Hills.

A total of 294 students attend programs at MCST. A total of 16 percent of Camden Hills juniors and seniors use the program, compared with 40 percent of Medomak Valley students in the same grades.

For the 2009-2010 school year, Camden Hills has contributed $894,277 to MCST. That figure is based on the cost of the vocational programming, divided among the sending schools according to their junior and senior populations.

In addition to Camden Hills, MCST serves students at Rockland District High School, Georges Valley High School in Thomaston, Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro, the Vinalhaven School and North Haven Community High School, Islesboro Central School, and Lincoln Academy in Newcastle.

“What works for one, does not work for all,” Fisher said, noting that students need multiple pathways because all students learn differently and should not be encouraged to follow the same course load.

“Many of these students need to see it, touch it and see it be applied,” she said.

Many people see the MCST programs as different than traditional programs, but everyone needs to work together to provide the best education for all students, Fisher said.

Five Town CSD School Board member Bob Lawson of Camden asked if MCST is cutting back like many other schools.

Fisher said the school has a higher than normal carryover of about $100,000 and has $30,000 to $40,000 of other income, which should translate into a flat budget for the coming year. This year’s total budget is about $2.8 million, she said.

Board member Geoffrey Parker of Rockport asked what Camden Hills needs to do to encourage more students to attend MCST.

Fisher said there are a couple of reasons for a drop in enrollment from the sending schools. One is that graduation requirements, particularly in math, have increased.

Another is that students need exposure to the programs to know what is available.

Camden Hills counselor John Parkman, who has also worked at MVHS, said the smaller percentage of students attending MCST could be part of a normal ebb and flow. It was not unusual for attendance to fluctuate when he was at MVHS, he said.

Parkman said he is a strong supporter of programs at MCST. Many students do not end up returning to the area after attending college, he said, but vocational students tend to stay in the area and become good taxpayers. His comment generated chuckles from the audience.

Tom Farley, who is a Rockport selectman, blamed the school’s guidance department. “[There is] an aura around Camden Hills to worry about the kid that is going to Harvard, when we should worry about the kid that stays here,” he said.

Farley said he thinks students at Camden Hills are no different than students at MVHS.

Superintendent Pat Hopkins defended the guidance department, saying that some years have had higher numbers of students attend MCST than others and it is not fair to blame that on the department.

Board member Marcia Dietrich of Rockport said 78 percent of seniors at Camden Hills go off to college, compared with 42 percent at MVHS.

Many Flags, One Campus

Alan Hinsey gave an overview Jan. 6 of the Many Flags, One Campus project.

The Many Flags proposal would combine Rockland District High School, Georges Valley High School in Thomaston, MCST, an industry training center and higher education programs on one campus.

In 2008, the Many Flags proposal and one from the Sanford school system were the only applicants for a designation from the Department of Education. The designation would allow the group selected to receive state construction aid although no money has been set aside for any such model project.

The department recommended the Sanford project.

Before the Maine Board of Education could vote on the department’s recommendation, however, the state department acknowledged in March 2009 that the review process had not been fair toward Many Flags and announced the process would have to start again.

The Maine Legislature approved a law, signed by the governor in June, that had been sought by local supporters of Many Flags. The law requires that all the programs have a physical presence on the campus. The rules allow some of those components to be offered from a distance by video conferencing but each component must have a physical presence on the campus.

Distance learning by video conferencing was a part of the Sanford application.

Sanford area legislators had argued against the provision of the law and filed a lawsuit last year to overturn the decision, but the case was later dropped by the town.

The local Many Flags steering committee is now working to rewrite the application, which is due to the DOE by March 15. The group is expected to have a decision by June.

Board member Dietrich asked what the voting requirement would be for the publicly funded portion of the plans to build a new MCST facility as part of Many Flags. Hinsey said he wasn’t sure, but assumed all towns associated with the sending schools would have to vote.

Dietrich also asked what provisions would be made for Camden Hills students so they would not be at a disadvantage compared with Rockland and Thomaston students whose schools would be on the Many Flags campus.

Fisher said all vocational centers in the state are near a high school, but serve all the high school in that area. She does not believe the new facility would detract from opportunities for all students.

A new larger MCST facility, she said, would provide greater opportunities for everyone. The current facility, located on South Main Street in Rockland, is “busting at the seams,” and some programs cannot be offered due to space constraints.

Local supporters have said the earliest a school would be built would be five years from now.

The Herald Gazette Reporter Kim Lincoln can be reached at 236-8511 or by e-mail at klincoln@villagesoup.com.