ORONO, Maine — School choice, the ownership of school property and potential cost savings were among the school consolidation issues raised by residents Thursday evening during a public forum sponsored by the Riverside Regionalization Planning Committee.
About 25 people and seven committee members attended the meeting, which fell about three weeks before the Tuesday, Jan. 27, vote on school consolidation. Under the plan, Orono, Veazie and Glenburn schools would consolidate into one regional school unit.
Students in Veazie and Glenburn would retain school choice, which allows high school students in towns without high schools to attend the school of their choice. Orono residents must attend Orono High School, as do some Veazie and Glenburn residents. Others from Veazie and Glenburn opt to attend schools such as Bangor High School and John Bapst High School, which is a private school in Bangor.
In the case of schools with higher tuition than the state average, the sending town pays the difference. Several Orono residents wondered who would pay the difference in tuition — if the consolidation plan passes — for students who opt for more expensive schools.
RPC member Gavin Batchelder, a Veazie School Committee member, said in the plan the RSU would pay the tuition difference, and the RSU then would bill the sending town. He used the example of two people out to a pizza lunch. If one day, Batchelder said, each person orders $5 worth of food on a $10 bill, they each pay $5. But if the next day one person decides he wants an extra $1 item on his pizza, he pays $6 instead of $5.
“It’s a silly example, but to break it down that’s really the way the money thing works,” Batchelder said. “You pay the money in, you pay the money out.”
Orono resident Dan Lapointe said he was concerned that ownership of school property in the three towns would go to the state if the RSU were approved. Several RPC members assured Lapointe that the buildings and land would be transferred to the RSU and some areas of school property, such as a wooded area behind the Orono High athletic fields, will remain with the town.
“None of the property is being transferred to the state,” said Tom Perry, an Orono town councilor and RPC member. “It is being transferred to the new RSU. … It is not a matter of losing total control of property, it is a matter of having the organization that is responsible for using and maintaining the property having control of it.”
Fred Otto of Orono asked the committee what services would be eliminated under the plan to reach an estimated first-year savings of $85,000 for the town. Perry said the passing of the RSU would mean reduction of some positions, primarily in central administration, when the RSU moves from two superintendents’ offices to one.
To open the meeting, the planning committee made a case for the plan, including the potential cost savings of streamlining operations and avoiding the state-assessed penalty for noncompliance with an RSU plan. The fine would be $286,670.
The Riverside RPC plan was the result of 26 public committee meetings and was approved Nov. 18 by Maine Commissioner of Education Susan Gendron.
“Basically, our guiding principal throughout this entire process was to be fair and equitable to all concerned,” said Jim Bird, an Orono school committee representative to the RPC.
The Riverside committee will hold its final public meetings Jan. 14 at the Glenburn School gymnasium and Jan. 15 at the Veazie School. Both meetings will start at 7 p.m. A public hearing organized by Orono also will be held at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 12 in council chambers.
The consolidation plan is available for viewing at the Orono, Veazie and Glenburn town offices, the superintendent’s office, Orono Public Library, and online at www.orono.u87.k12.me.us/RPC/. Committee minutes are also available online.