Big changes afoot, according to RSU 20 reorganization concept

Posted June 01, 2011, at 6:33 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — For several years now, balancing the budget for RSU 20 has been growing more and more difficult, according to Superintendent Bruce Mailloux.

“We have been in a cutback mode for the last five years, eliminating positions, reducing supply lines, freezing the budget, reducing services — holding the line,” he wrote in a memorandum sent in mid-May to the school union’s board of directors. “If we hope to maintain the quality of our education in RSU 20, this is a trend that cannot continue.”

How to buck that trend for the district’s nine towns in eastern Waldo County?

Mailloux has a plan. Or to be more accurate, he has a concept.

The memo details that concept, a reorganization plan which, if fully implemented, would greatly alter where students go to school. Among the proposed changes:

• The Searsport District Middle-High School complex would become the middle school for the entire RSU. All students grades six through eight would attend the school.

• Belfast Area High School would become the high school for the entire RSU. BCOPE would continue to serve as the district’s alternative high school.

• Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast would become an elementary school for kindergarten through fifth-grade students from Ames Elementary School in Searsmont, Gladys Weymouth Elementary School in Morrill and Kermit Nickerson Elementary School in Swanville.

• East Belfast School will become a preschool center, housing programs from Searsmont, Swanville, East Belfast and Belfast.

• Frankfort Elementary School students would move to Searsport Elementary School and the Frankfort school would close.

• Stockton Springs Elementary School, Drinkwater School in Northport and Captain Albert Stevens Elementary School in Belfast would remain open.

After such a massive reorganizing and consolidation, Mailloux estimated in the memo that the district’s annual savings would be more than $1.8 million, including a $717,000 savings for the city of Belfast.

According to the concept, 17.5 teaching positions would be lost, along with one administrator and two secretaries.

Mailloux said recently he has heard a variety of reactions from the public.

“I’ve got some people who are all in favor and think it’s a great idea,” he said. “And some people are really upset.”

A recent decision to close a school in the district met with significant disapproval. Earlier this year, the board of directors had voted to close the Frankfort Elementary School, which has fewer than 100 pupils. But after parental push back and a second vote in May, the school will remain open for the time being.

Seth Brown is a Frankfort Elementary School parent who worked to keep it open. He said Wednesday that while he has many questions about the new reorganization concept, his idea of what’s important has not changed.

“My interest in keeping Frankfort Elementary School open is still a priority, as well as keeping other elementary schools open in the region,” he said.

Jean Dube, chairwoman of the RSU 20 board of directors, said Wednesday, “I think that if everything comes together, it could benefit all the children of RSU 20. But there are a lot of unanswered questions.”

In the memo, Mailloux listed some potential drawbacks to reorganization, including students spending more time on buses, a more crowded high school and the idea that the “nurturing, secure and intimate feeling” of elementary schools would be lost.

“I realize the concept represents major changes and will certainly meet with significant resistance,” Mailloux wrote. “I, like everyone else, like the way things are and do not want to see big changes. However, the finances are not what they were in the past. The quality of our educational offerings will decline unless we pay more in taxes or reduce our cost of operations by more efficiently utilizing our current facilities.”

He said that if the board of directors gives the concept the go-ahead, the district would set up public forums throughout the region to explain it and to gather public comments and concerns.

Public support is necessary to have the plan take root, he said.

The board could vote on the concept as soon as November or December, and if directors decide to move forward with the restructuring, it likely would not be implemented earlier than September 2013, according to Mailloux.

RSU 20 board of directors plans to discuss the reorganization plan concept at their next meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, June 16, at the central office in Belfast.

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