Combine Orono, Old Town high schools

Posted Nov. 19, 2010, at 9:27 p.m.

Currently, RSU 34, which consists of Old Town, Alton and Bradley, is in the process of proposing an extension of Old Town High School for new classrooms at a cost of approximately $6 million to meet the needs of its student body. Orono High School, which is in neighboring RSU 26, needs to consider updating its school, too.

Both high schools suffer from inadequate facilities. They are very old buildings that struggle to serve the needs of the students. Neither school is built to meet the needs of the 21st century student.

Both high schools have excellent faculties, support staffs and administrations. They do amazing work with what little they have to work with. I believe that Orono and Old Town need to conduct a study to see if combining into a regional high school would serve the communities better.

The University of Maine is an excellent resource to conduct such a study. RSU 34 is open to the idea. The idea has been rejected by RSU 26, which is made up of Orono, Veazie and Glenburn.

My question is this: With both towns suffering from dwindling student populations and the excess of overhead costs, why not merge? RSU 26 is unwilling to consider the idea and has told RSU 34 “no” on two different occasions.

I was born and raised in Orono. I graduated from Orono High School in 1985 and the University of Maine in 1989. I have also earned two advanced degrees from the University of Maine. From my viewpoint, I feel that Orono has no legitimate reason to say no. I am under the assumption that a new high school in the same town(s) as the University of Maine would be welcomed by UMaine as a possible site to test any pilot programs in education that they are studying.

Shouldn’t an economic study be done to look into the pros-cons of a consolidation proposal? Perhaps, I am missing something here; but before the two communities spend millions of dollars to essentially apply a Band-Aid to the problems, shouldn’t we examine its true impact?

I ask the residents of these communities to please consider such a project. The biases of a select few may have a large negative impact on RSU 34 and RSU 26 because of ego and a snobbish attitude (college town versus mill town). The University of Maine should consider itself a stakeholder over such a large economic issue in its own backyard.

The goal is to continue improvement of student learning, not to keep past rivalries going. To be honest, I am shocked that a community like Orono (my hometown), with the University of Maine located in its backyard, is unwilling to do the right thing for the students. How can a university community be taken seriously if it un-willing to do right by its own children?

Sean Wasson of Orono is a former Orono Town Councilor and a social studies teacher at Old Town

High School.

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