A split Regional School Unit 13 board voted April 4 to postpone a previously proposed merger of the Thomaston and Rockland middle schools for at least one year while school leaders study the issue.

Three members of the board opposed the motion during the school board meeting at the former McLain School, but the majority voted to postpone the merger.

Facing a $1.6 million budget shortfall, top RSU 13 administrators had proposed combining the Thomaston and Rockland middle schools this coming academic year to partially fill the gap.

Superintendent Lew Collins warned the board that it would have to deal with the budget shortfall, and sell its budget to voters in the district. He said he was concerned school leaders would be back at the table in July after the school budget fails at the polls trying to figure out what to do.

Board Chairman Tess Kilgour said the merger is inevitable, but not this year. She supported postponing the merger.

She added the school system has seen a decline in the student population, but no corresponding reduction in the number of buildings. Eventually that will have to be addressed by consolidation, she said. She said she hopes the community will have faith in the school board to support tough choices it will have to make.

If the merger had been adopted, sixth- and seventh-grade students from Thomaston, Rockland and Cushing would attend the Thomaston Grammar School building, housing a total of 250 students. Cushing fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders already attend the school.

Cushing and Thomaston fifth-graders would also attend the Thomaston school, but Rockland fifth-graders would remain in Rockland.

The South School population, including Rockland fifth-graders, would have moved to the middle school building, and South School would not be used, according to the plan.

Collins said previously the district is looking to maintain programs with fixed costs increasing each year, less state revenue, and Gov. Paul LePage's proposed budget calling for districts to pay a share of teacher retirement. "It's a bill we can hardly afford."

The district budget validation referendum will be June 11.

Courier Publications News Editor Daniel Dunkle can be reached at 594-4401 or by email at ddunkle@courierpublicationsllc.com.