ROCKLAND, Maine — Regional School Unit 13’s superintendent announced Thursday night that he is looking at merging Rockland District Middle School and Thomaston Grammar School as a way to help bridge a looming budget gap.
The plan would be for all sixth- and seventh-grade students who attend the two middle schools to be educated at the Thomaston school beginning in September.
The move would save money by consolidating positions, Collins said.
The need to save money is crucial, he said, as the district faces another large budget gap between its projected expenses for 2013-2014 and current revenues. He said the gap is estimated at $1.6 million.
The gap is the result of fixed cost increases, such as for fuel, food, health insurance and staff step increases already negotiated. In addition, the district expects to get less state aid. The superintendent said that the governor’s proposal for local districts to pick up a share of teacher retirement contributions would cost RSU 13 $333,000 in the next budget year.
The merger of the two middle schools would come two years after the district merged its two high schools. The merger of Rockland District High School in Rockland and Georges Valley High School in Thomaston created Oceanside High School.
Even with the merger, Collins said the merged middle school in Thomaston would be a small school with fewer than 300 students. There are 180 students enrolled at RDMS and 117 at TGS.
Fifth-graders in Rockland who now attend the middle school in Rockland would be moved to the elementary South School. Fifth-graders from Owls Head and South Thomaston would attend the Owls Head Central School, an elementary school.
Collins said that the merger will not affect the St. George School, which educates students in kindergarten through seventh grade. The district’s decision a year ago to require eighth-graders in St. George to attend Oceanside High School was met with overwhelming opposition and criticism by St. George.
Collins said that even with the merger, the district will have to look at cutting positions to bridge the budget gap.
He said, however, that while he hopes to bridge two-thirds of the $1.6 million gap with cuts, the remaining third will need to come from additional property taxes from the six communities within RSU 13.
The communities are Rockland, Thomaston, St. George, Owls Head, South Thomaston and Cushing. Rockland will see the biggest share of any increase in property taxes because of the cost-sharing formula adopted when the RSU was created in 2009.
The district has faced budget reductions in the past few years since SADs 5 and 50 created the new regional district.