By tabling a measure to reconsider a regional high school, the Orono School Committee has kept the idea alive. Now, it is time to move beyond life support to more fully consider this forward-looking proposal.
The Old Town School Committee has unanimously supported studying the possibility of a high school to serve both its students and those from neighboring Orono. The University of Maine has convened a committee to help the process along, if the two towns support it. The only thing that is missing is a commitment from Orono.
The Orono School Committee, earlier this year, rejected a proposal to study the possibility of such a high school. The rationale of those who voted against the study, largely, was that smaller schools are better and that they wanted to focus on their work with Glenburn and Veazie, as part of the state’s school consolidation law.
Both are valid concerns, but reality shouldn’t be overlooked.
The high schools in both towns face declining enrollment, which means higher per-pupil costs and limited course offerings. Students from both Old Town and Orono high schools have expressed concerns about not having access to a fuller array of courses.
To reduce costs and improve education, a consolidated high school makes sense. Starting over with a new building near the border of the two communities, which is where the University of Maine happens to be located, is a positive way to overcome the perceived rivalry and possible concerns parents have about their children going to high school outside their town.
Without beginning a conversation, there is no chance for improvement.
If the Orono School Committee, which meets Tuesday, needs further evidence that looking at a regional high school is worthwhile, it should reread the May letter from Susan Gendron, the state’s commissioner of education, approving Orono’s request to file a reorganization plan with Veazie and Glenburn.
“I strongly encourage that you explore working collaboratively with surrounding school units as I have serious concerns about the long-term sustainability of the Glenburn, Orono, and Veazie regional school unit as the reorganization law is implemented across the state,” the commissioner wrote.
In a later letter, Commissioner Gendron said there was no problem with Orono and Old Town working together on a high school while both communities also worked on separate consolidation plans. In fact, she wrote, a regional high school would likely get a boost in seeking state construction funds.
Studying a regional high school doesn’t make it a reality, but this is a concept well worth consideration. Two parties are ready to do so. Orono should join them.