PALMYRA, Maine — A parent-led group aimed at helping curb financial problems at Regional School Unit 19 met Monday evening to brainstorm ideas for the struggling school district.
On Nov. 6, voters in Corinna, Dixmont, Etna, Hartland, Newport, Palmyra, Plymouth and St. Albans, towns that comprise RSU 19, shot down a $3.6 million loan that would have allowed the district to make it through the rest of the school year without further cuts. Earlier this year, serious errors causing the $3.6 million shortfall were discovered in the district’s budget.
To help bridge the gap, Superintendent Greg Potter cut $750,000 off the budget last week by eliminating most subvarsity sports, extracurricular activities and transportation to after-school events.
Frustrated parents whose children were affected by the cuts came together to help find solutions. Discussions first started on social media websites.
“Some people were angry and some were like, ‘Hey, why be mad? It’s done. What can be done about it?’” Jennifer Watson of Palmyra said Tuesday.
The RSU 19 Parent and Community Group was born and its first meeting was held on Monday evening at the Palmyra Community Center. Watson said about 80 people turned out to generate discussion.
“It went really well,” said Kelly Monk of Palmyra, one of the group’s organizers. “We met as a large group at first and broke into smaller groups where people could address certain concerns.”
The group composed a list of questions to be brought before the RSU 19 board of directors at 7 p.m. Wednesday, when the board will get together for a special meeting at Nokomis Regional High School in Newport.
Monk said the parents broke into four groups — high school athletics, middle school athletics, high school academics and middle school academics.
“We wanted to kind of get a feel for what parents were concerned about and what teachers needed as far as supplies and support in the classroom to help the kids,” said Monk.
Twenty-one questions will be presented to the board of directors. Parents asked if private money could be raised for athletics and if a pay-to-play option can be explored in the future. They asked how AP exams will work now that the district won’t pay the fees and if there are liability problems for private transportation of children to after-school activities. They also asked if school supply drives are possible.
“Somebody asked if we could do supply drives where we can set up an area business and people could drop off supplies needed for the schools,” said Monk. “These are things we need to bring to the board. We can’t do anything without their approval.”
After Monday’s meeting, Monk said she set up a Facebook group so people could keep informed. In less than 24 hours, the group had more than 300 members.
“This is just parents and community members who have joined the group because they want to be involved and informed,” said Watson. “There are so many people who want to help.”
Group organizer Amanda Peterson of St. Albans said there were people at the meeting who were upset about how the financial situation got started, but everyone kept moving forward to find solutions.
“I know they’re angry about accountability and how the mistake happened and that some can’t afford [the extra taxes that would come from a loan], but we need to find ways to help [the school district, teachers and students],” said Peterson.
Peterson said the group’s next step will depend upon what decisions are made by the RSU 19 board of directors.