May 27, 2018
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School board to vote on closing, combining Rockland area schools

Rockland District Middle School
By Stephen Betts, BDN Staff

ROCKLAND, Maine — The Regional School Unit 13 Board is scheduled to take a series of votes Wednesday that could lead to the largest overhaul of Rockland area schools in generations.

The board is scheduled to vote on merging Rockland District Middle Schoo l and Thomaston Grammar School; relocating ninth graders who now attend Oceanside High School West in Thomaston to Oceanside East in Rockland; and considering beginning the process to close both the Owls Head Central School in Owls Head and the Gilford Butler School in South Thomaston.

“We are trying to make long-term plans so that parents can know where their children will be going for years down the road,” said RSU 13 Board Chairwoman Esther “Tess” Kilgou r.

The proposals to be voted on Wednesday are similar to what KIlgour suggested earlier this year.

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. at the McLain School in Rockland.

The board has been wrestling with ways to save money through efficient use of buildings for the past few years. A little more than two years ago, the board voted to create the two Oceanside high schools out of Rockland District High School and Georges Valley High School. The change created a 10th through 12th grade school in Rockland and an eighth and ninth grade school in Thomaston.

Superintendent Lewis Collins recommended earlier this year the consolidation of the two middle schools with sixth and seventh graders from all the communities — other than St. George — moving to Thomaston Grammar. A divided board voted in April, however, to postpone such a consolidation for at least a year.

Rockland District Middle School had 183 students last year while Thomaston Grammar had 114.

Board members earlier said the district needed a more comprehensive plan for all district buildings. A series of public meetings was held during the next few months.

If the board opts to move ninth graders to Oceanside East, an addition would be needed to handle the extra students, according to the administration. The board has not sought cost estimates yet for building such an addition. There were 473 students at Oceanside East last year with another 162 ninth graders at Oceanside West.

Kilgour said each part of the overall plan hinges on the other. She said it will be up to the board to determine the final plan. The consolidation of the middle schools, for example, does not specify where the middle school students would be moved.

Kilgour said if the board votes to move forward with closing the two elementary schools in Owls Head and South Thomaston, those students would end up going the South School in Rockland which is attached to Rockland District Middle School.

A closure of those schools, however, could not be implemented without the approval of residents in the towns where the schools are located. If the board voted to close a school but residents of the town overruled that closure in a municipal referendum, the town could be made to pay the cost of keeping it open.

Robert Branco, chairman of the South Thomaston Board of Selectmen, said that citizens have been concerned for the past few years of a possible effort to close the town’s elementary school. The selectman said he is somewhat surprised by the current proposal and had not received advanced notice of such a vote.

The Gilford Butler School educates students in kindergarten through second grade with an enrollment of 85 students. The Owls Head school educates students in grades third through fifth with an enrollment of 79.

The South School last year served 299 students in kindergarten through fourth grade.

Rockland District Middle School was built in 1998 and the South School in 1949, although it was modernized and expanded in 1998.

The Cushing Community School has the smallest enrollment in the district, with 75 students in kindergarten through fourth grade. The Lura Libby School in Thomaston has 170 students in kindergarten through fourth grade.

The St. George School has students in kindergarten through grade seven with an enrollment of 179. St. George is developing a plan to withdraw from RSU 13.

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