ST. GEORGE, Maine — The Regional School Unit 13 Board rejected Thursday night the request by a unified St. George community to keep its eighth-grade students in their hometown school.
The issue has been a controversial one for the past two years. The town created a committee last year that looked at options that included withdrawing from the district.
The RSU 13 board voted 7-4 to reject the proposal for the eighth-grade students to remain at the St. George School which is a kindergarten through eighth-grade school. This means the eighth-graders will be assigned to Oceanside High School West in Thomaston starting in September.
Board member Brian Messing of Rockland said he opposes keeping the eighth-graders in St. George for three reasons. He said it is important for the St. George students to have the social interaction with their peers instead of delaying it until the ninth grade when the students will then be viewed as outsiders. Messing also said the students will have more educational opportunities being at Oceanside West. He also said despite claims to the contrary he expected it would cost more to keep the students in St. George.
The two school board representatives for St. George urged the full board to approve the request.
William Reinhardt, the chairman of the St. George Selectboard, also urged the board to approve the request of the town. The board only narrowly voted to allow Reinhardt to speak with some board members pointing out that the public comment session had already been held.
Two years ago, then Superintendent Judy Lucarelli recommended consolidating all eighth-graders at Oceanside West. The board initially approved the recommendation but St. George lobbied for a one-year delay.
St. George residents agreed at a special town meeting in March 2011 to raise an additional $50,000 beyond what it was required to pay in order to keep the students in St. George for 2011-2012.
Earlier this week, Reinhardt said he thought the St. George proposal was a win-win situation since the proposal also called for allowing other elementary students in the district to attend the St. George school if their parents choose.
Voting for the St. George request on Thursday night were board members Don Choquette and George Emery of St. George, Carol Bachofner of Rockland, and Eric Schenk of South Thomaston.
In other action, the board voted 9-2 (board members Messing and Donald Robishaw of Rockland opposed) to give final approval to the proposed 2012-2013 budget of $26,470,403.
This represents a 2 percent increase in spending from the approved 2011-2012 budget.
The budget, however, will require an additional $817,416 in property taxes from the six communities in RSU 13. Rockland will see the largest increase, having to pay an additional $310,832. St. George would pay $133,562 more under the proposed budget, Thomaston an additional $127,801, Owls Head an extra $127,152, South Thomaston an additional $114,456, and Cushing $3,613 more.
The increased reliance on property taxes is due to the loss of $470,000 in federal stimulus money and the loss of $370,000 in state education subsidies.
There was considerable debate Thursday night on whether to retain a fourth high school art teacher. The administration had proposed a budget to cut one of the art positions. Students turned out with a petition signed by more than 300 students to save the post.
“I’m thrilled the students are so active and passionate. If this is not what we’re all about then we may as well pack up and go home,” Bachofner said.
Messing said the board had recommended the addition when the administration said it could do it along with some other additions if another $150,000 was added to the budget. Last month the board agreed to add $250,000 back in the budget but the art position was not included.
The board voted to add the position back in the budget with the post being paid through the district’s contingency account. Messing and Robishaw voted against the addition.
The districtwide budget meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 29, at Oceanside High School East auditorium in Rockland. A referendum to approve or reject the budget adopted by the public on May 29 will be voted on Tuesday, June 12, at the polls in each of the six communities.