St. George mulls next step in fight over school control

Posted May 14, 2012, at 7:07 p.m.

ST. GEORGE, Maine — Town leaders want to get the public’s sentiment on what step to take next after the district school board rejected a request to keep the eighth grade in St. George School.

The RSU 13 board voted on May 3 to have the St. George eighth-graders join other eighth-grade students in the school district by attending Oceanside High School West in neighboring Thomaston starting in September.

Don Choquette, one of two St. George board members on the RSU 13 board, said he was surprised at the reaction of the school board to the presentation made by the town. He said he also was shocked by the reception given to the chairman of the town’s Board of Selectmen. The board only narrowly voted to allow him to speak during the meeting when the issue was to be voted on by the board.

“I think it was disgraceful,” Choquette said. “The board was sending quite a message to the community, and it was not a very good one.”

Selectmen Chairman William Reinhardt said he too was surprised by the reaction, not from a personal standpoint but as a representative to one of the communities in the district.

“I was dumbfounded,” Reinhardt said.

In the wake of the May 3 vote, a table was set up at the town office Monday where voting was being held for municipal elections. The townspeople were being asked their opinions by the town educational option committee on what St. George should do next. The town established the committee last year after the proposal to move the eighth-graders first surfaced two years ago.

“Do we stay with the RSU? Do we look at other options?” the sign at the table asked.

Reinhardt said selectmen will await recommendations from the town’s educational option committee and the town’s two school board representatives before deciding the next step.

Reinhardt said he expected a two-pronged parallel approach in which the town’s board members will present issues of concerns and interest to the full school board in order to work within the system but also to consider a more formal look at possible withdrawal.

He noted that as of July 1, the town can initiate a formal withdrawal study based on state law. RSU 13 will be 3 years old on July 1.

An analysis of the issue last year showed that the town’s cost to run a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school and tuition students in grades nine through 12 to Oceanside would cost slightly more than $4 million. St. George has 292 students in the school district out of the 2,128 total enrollment.

RSU 13 also includes Rockland, Thomaston, South Thomaston, Owls Head and Cushing.

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