May 24, 2018
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St. George to make pitch to keep eighth-graders in local school

By Stephen Betts, BDN Staff

ROCKLAND, Maine — St. George officials will make a presentation Thursday evening on a proposal to keep its town’s eighth-graders at the St. George School.

And there is much more optimism this year that their request will be honored.

Two years ago, then-Superintendent Judy Lucarelli called for consolidating all eighth-grade classrooms into the Oceanside High School West complex in Thomaston. Residents and town officials in St. George, however, voiced strong opposition to that proposed move.

The Regional School Unit 13 board initially voted to approve the superintendent’s plan but later reversed that move and agreed to allow eighth-graders to remain at the St. George School for one more year (2011-2012). St. George residents agreed at a special town meeting in March 2011 to contribute an additional $50,000 to RSU 13 to pay for the extra expense of keeping eighth-graders in town.

St. George Select Board Chairman William Reinhardt said Monday he and the town’s two representatives on the RSU 13 board will make a presentation to the school board Thursday night with a plan that would keep the eighth grade at the school and also allow eighth-graders from other towns in the district to transfer to St. George if that is deemed in their best interest.

Reinhardt said the community remains united and adamant that the St. George School should remain a kindergarten through eighth-grade school. In addition, he said the community and staff have worked on a report that highlights the expeditionary education at the school. If there are eighth-graders from other communities in RSU 13 that the school administration believes it is in their best interest to have expeditionary learning, they could transfer to St. George.

Expeditionary education involves more hands-on learning and field trips.

“It’s a win-win situation,” Reinhardt said.

Neal Guyer, interim superintendent for RSU 13, said the school system’s administrative team has agreed that the location of St. George eighth-graders is not an educational issue but a community preference issue. The decision will rest with the board, he said.

The eighth grade at the St. George School has 19 to 20 students but next year that will drop to 13, the chairman of the Select Board said. But the year after next, 24 to 25 students will be eighth-graders in St. George.

The issue of moving the eighth-graders was a divisive one within the school district and the school board a year ago. Two chairmen of the board — one from South Thomaston and the other from neighboring Thomaston — who initially supported the relocation of the St. George eighth grade were defeated in their re-election bids last spring.

St. George townspeople also formed a town education committee to look at options that included leaving the district.

In a report issued March 16, the town committee offered a much more upbeat assessment of the relationship between the town and school district since the committee formed a year ago.

“Most notable, however, is the sense of TEC members and the St. George School Board representatives that there is a new — and encouraging — spirit of outreach to and engagement with local communities on the part of the RSU 13 Board and administration,” stated a summary of the March report.

The committee cited recent meetings as well as the search for a new superintendent as positive signs. Lucarelli resigned in December to work on human resources matters with the Passamaqoddy Tribe and Penobscot Nation.

The committee also praised interim superintendent Neal Guyer.

“The interim superintendent is encouraging a collaborative and transparent decision-making process that if continued by the next superintendent could bode well,” the report states.

But the committee cautioned that there were no guarantees.

“There is no guarantee that the Board will vote to maintain the eighth grade in St. George. Another potentially rancorous issue — the increasing property tax burdens in some communities and a consequent decrease in others — looms. We anticipate that a movement to reconsider the cost-sharing formula will gain strength, particularly as the current cost-sharing formula nears full implementation.”

RSU 13 consists of Rockland, Thomaston, St. George, Owls Head, South Thomaston and Cushing. When the district was created three years ago, the voters approved a cost-sharing formula that has resulted in Rockland picking up a greater percentage of the costs based on its student population. Rockland board members have in the past requested that the formula be re-examined to reflect more property values in an effort to lower that community’s share of school costs.

The RSU 13 board meeting is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the McLain School in Rockland.

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