ROCKLAND, Maine — Jennifer Garrett cried after the votes were tallied. She ran out of the RSU 13 board meeting Thursday night when it was announced that all eighth-grade students in St. George will be moved to a new school in Thomaston next year.
Sobbing, Garrett held herself up against a tall recycling bin.
“I have a daughter in seventh grade who will be affected by this,” she said outside the meeting. “I wanted her to stay in St. George. She’d have a better chance at success.”
St. George residents have been fighting for almost a year to keep eighth-graders in their small school next year rather than send them to Thomaston for a new eighth- and ninth-grade school that aims to help students in the district’s six towns make the transition into high school. St. George residents vocally opposed sending their eighth-graders out of town, as those youths make up a large chunk of the St. George School’s extracurricular groups.
“It’s going to be devastating to the school,” said Josh McPhail, who teaches sixth through eighth grade at St. George School. “It will lead to the loss of programs. Our sports teams will disappear. Our band program won’t have enough kids. So many things will have a trickle effect.”
The vote, which would have reversed an earlier decision to send St. George children to the eight-nine school, was split 6-6, but the district has weighted votes that resulted in a 457-462 defeat of the motion.
At the meeting, Superintendent Judith Lucarelli voiced her opposition to the motion to keep St. George eighth-graders in town.
“The work is bold. It’s energizing,” she said of the eight-nine school that will open next fall. “It will make a difference to every student in RSU 13.”
To allow the 20 or so St. George eighth-graders to stay in their 200-student school would “dismantle that plan,” she said.
Board member Esther Kilgour voted against the measure, saying it would be difficult for St. George students to adjust in the eight-nine school if they came in as ninth-graders, a year later than all the other children.
“The emotional piece is huge for eighth-graders — it almost cripples anything else,” she said.
By moving the St. George students with the district’s other eighth-graders, at least one teacher position can be eliminated, saving about $50,000 from the district budget. The town of St. George offered to try to pay the $50,000 by asking voters at a town meeting later this year.
Bill Reinhardt, chairman of the St. George Board of Selectmen, said the Thursday night vote was a failure of local government.
“We’re not done,” he said after the vote. “It will come down to an effort to withdraw from the district.”