June 24, 2018
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St. George report sees gain in leaving school district

By Heather Steeves, BDN Staff

ST. GEORGE, Maine — If this town secedes from its consolidated school district, it would pay the same or perhaps fewer tax dollars and would have more control over its children’s education, according to a report presented at a Wednesday night meeting.

“You could operate a municipal school district, K through 12, assuming you could tuition your [grades] 9 through 12 for at least no more than you’re paying now. I think that’s a fair statement. Perhaps at a slight [tax] reduction,” said John Spear, who was hired as a business consultant by the St. George Education Options Committee.

The draft of the report was based largely on the current school district budget. The projections accounted for the St. George School, which has kindergarten through eighth grade, and assumes the town can send high school students to other schools by paying those schools’ tuition.

The report was formed amid rising tensions between RSU 13 and St. George, which originally voted against joining a consolidated district. The school district voted to take the town’s eighth-graders out of St. George School and send them to a new eighth- and ninth-grade school in Thomaston. Townspeople have said this will destroy sports and band at the local school, which acts as a community hub.

The report presented to the education options committee may represent a first step away from the district, which St. George legally can secede from next year.

According to Bill Reinhardt, the Watershed School in Rockland already extended an offer to tuition the St. George high school students.

Committee member Angela Vachon was cautiously optimistic about the report.

“I take some of it with a grain of salt. It looks positive, but I’m trying not to get too excited about things,” Vachon said. “It’s a step in the right direction to show the board that we’re serious.”

Committee chairman Terry Driscoll said the group still is willing to work out its problems with RSU 13.

“We want to make withdrawal an option we reluctantly can exercise. We want to work this out if we can,” he said. “The best option would be to work with RSU 13.”

Two committee members disagreed, saying they would rather secede and control their school completely.

“What would they have to do to satisfy us?” Driscoll asked the committee.

Several board members wanted the school district to actively engage in dialogue. Those members said talking to the school board is much like talking to a wall, referring to the public comment session of school district meetings in which they said school board officials rarely respond to commenters.

“Citizens need to have the ability to get into the discussion,” said committee member Charmarie Blaisdell.

The group began a list of benchmarks the school district would have to meet in order to satisfy the town. Driscoll said the committee needs to continue discussing its expectations of the school district with the school board and to begin planning St. George’s withdrawal from the district.

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