June 24, 2018
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School merger finds optimism in Glenburn

By Kevin Miller, BDN Staff

GLENBURN, Maine — Residents expressed concerns and frustrations but also optimism Wednesday night about a proposal to merge with the Orono and Veazie school systems.

On Jan. 27, residents of the three towns will weigh in on a consolidation plan crafted by a committee of residents and town officials during the past year.

No schools would be closed or programs eliminated under the plan, which would take effect July 1, and students from Glenburn and Veazie would retain the right to choose which high school to attend. Voters in all three towns would elect members to serve on the regional school unit’s board of directors.

Committee members said the new Riverside Regional School Unit likely would save money by eliminating some administrative positions and increasing efficiency in maintenance and transportation. Merging also would allow the three towns to share some services as well as negotiate one collective bargaining agreement.

However, consolidation committee members acknowledged during an informational session with 60 to 70 Glenburn residents on Wednesday that it is unclear how much money merging will save the state or the towns.

“We’re probably not going to realize any cost savings right off the bat. It’s going to be long term,” said Glenburn’s Blake Fryer.

The prospect of a state-coerced consolidation has sparked tensions in communities throughout Maine, and Glenburn is no different. Speakers expressed concerns about loss of local control of school grounds, possible curriculum changes and the impacts on school choice.

Committee members tried to reassure speakers that not much will change for students and their families, however.

“Everything will continue to operate in the same manner, the only difference is it will be part of an RSU [Regional School Unit] instead of a town,” said Glenburn member and co-chairwoman Cheryl Hoover.

But several speakers said they were uncomfortable with all of the uncertainty.

“We hope to save money but we might not. We think we’re going to know what it will look like, but we’re not sure,” said one speaker.

Throughout the meeting, committee members echoed some of those frustrations and criticized the state for requiring consolidation. But they pointed out that if Glenburn residents reject the consolidation plan, the town could be subject to an estimated $108,000 penalty the first year and then could be left with less appealing merger options.

Both committee members and audience members said they felt the three towns were a good fit for one another with similar commitments to offering students quality education.

“I truly feel the options the community has are very narrow, and I feel this is the best option,” said Glenburn superintendent Doug Smith.

Near the end of the meeting, parent and Glenburn Town Council member Michael O’Connor asked the committee for a show of hands of who plans to support the merger on Jan. 27. Despite the apparent misgivings of some about the consolidation concept, all hands went up. O’Connor said afterward the committee had won his vote.

The full plan is available for viewing at www.orono.u87.k12. me.us/RPC/index.html.

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