June 22, 2018
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Parents, teachers voice concerns over midcoast school merger plan

By Stephen Betts, BDN Staff

ROCKLAND, Maine — The proposal to send all middle school students to Thomaston Grammar School starting in September was met with concerns by parents and teachers.

One theme repeated during the 90-minute forum was the lack of space at Thomaston Grammar School to accommodate sixth- and seventh-graders who now attend Rockland District Middle School.

Other parents also questioned whether the middle school building, designed for older students, was a suitable school to be used for small children. The plan calls for using RDMS as the Rockland elementary school for students in kindergarten through grade five.

Ellen Spring, the district’s middle school librarian, pointed out that the library in Thomaston has space for, at most, 100 books and is crowded. The RDMS library has far more space and 10,000 books and videos.

“What do we do with an extra 10,000 books and videos?” Spring asked.

Parent Missy Stevens asked if there had been any thought given to flip-flopping the plan and sending Thomaston students to Rockland. She said the gym is smaller at Thomaston Grammar, the gym is used for the cafeteria, and there are no lockers as there are at RDMS.

Stevens added that the Rockland middle school has a large spiraling staircase with a balcony that is not the best thing to have with small children. The bathrooms are also designed for larger students, she said.

Angela Johnson, a music teacher in the district who taught for 26 years at Thomaston Grammar, said the school would not be large enough to handle large events such as concerts.

Neal Guyer, director of school improvement for RSU 13, said a portable classroom would be needed to provide elbow room in the school.

Johnson said if music classes were moved to a portable classroom it would need to be a double-wide to handle the number of students.

Johnson also said that while the number of students who would be at Thomaston Grammar is about what the capacity of the school was when it was built, that was before there were certain programs added.

Parent Michelle Butler asked if the district had looked at other options. She said one option could be sending Rockland elementary students in the south end of the city to the Owls Head Central School in neighboring Owls Head.

The South School in Rockland and RDMS are attached buildings. South has students in kindergarten through grade five while RDMS has grades five through seven. The administration plan would have kindergarten through grade five in Rockland move over to the RDMS side of the complex and to close up South School. RDMS was built in 1998 and the South School in 1949, although it was modernized and expanded in 1998.

Butler said the district needs to look at sacred cows outside Rockland.

Janet Bouchard agreed and said the South School should not be the one looked at first for closure.

Bouchard said that the Owls Head Central School and the Gilford Butler School in South Thomaston have small enrollments and that if there are more numbers to crunch those two elementary schools should be examined.

The Cushing Community School has the smallest enrollment in the district, with 75 students. Owls Head Central has 79, Gilford Butler 85, Lura Libby 173 and South School 296.

The St. George School has students in kindergarten through grade seven with an enrollment of 175.

Guyer said one of the reasons for the merger proposal is that the district has joined programs such as music in which the teachers must drive to various schools.

He said savings on maintenance and custodial costs by shutting down the South School, other than keeping the heat at 50 degrees, is estimated at $233,000 annually.

He said savings from reduced staffing by combining the middle schools is estimated at another $250,000 to $300,000.

The district is facing a $1.6 million budget gap because of increased costs and continued loss of state aid.

Business Manager Scott Vaitones said that the district has seen its state aid reduced each year for the past four years. The current budget is $2.2 million less than what the two separate school districts — School Administrative Districts 5 and 50 — had before the districted merged into RSU 13 in July 2009.

Superintendent Lewis Collins was not in attendance because of a scheduling conflict. The meeting had originally been scheduled for Tuesday evening but was postponed because of the snowstorm.

Collins is expected to present the administration’s proposed 2013-14 budget to the school board on April 1.

Correction: An earlier version of this story requires correction. Janet Bouchard said the South School in Rockland, not Rockland District Middle School, should not be the one looked at first for closure.

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