April 23, 2018
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Belfast-area school board shares goals — not consolidation specifics

By Abigail Curtis, BDN Staff

BELFAST, Maine — Regional School Unit 20’s goals and objectives, as stated by the board of directors at a special meeting Tuesday night, now include ideas as concrete as increasing class size and as abstract as innovating education to meet students’ evolving needs.

What the list doesn’t include — at least so far this year — is a specific plan to consolidate the eight-town district’s remaining elementary, middle and high schools. That may have come as a surprise to the 25 or so parents and concerned community members who attended the meeting at Belfast Area High School and who wanted to have the opportunity to speak their minds. That desire was squelched by the board, which required a unanimous vote in favor of hearing public comment at the special meeting. They didn’t get it, and that made some in the crowd unhappy.

“I came and other parents came because we heard there was some talk about … closing community schools,” Caitlin Hills of Belfast, who is in a three-way race for Belfast’s two open seats on the board of directors, said after the meeting was over. “What I’m really upset about is the board voting against letting the public have a voice. I am frankly horrified.”

Despite some initial grumbling, the board members did develop a long list of goals and objectives. Director Alan Wood of Belfast did briefly mention creating a three-to-five year consolidation plan for the district’s schools.

“I want an inclusive policy in which the public, the towns, are included in this discussion,” he said.

Director Alexa Schweikert of Swanville agreed.

“We have to work together and they have to be involved,” she said.

Other suggestions for general goals included:

— increasing the graduation rate.

— researching the links between education and poverty.

— having each director spend time in the school.

— looking at alternative funding sources.

— working on getting Searsport District High School and Belfast Area High School on the same schedule so students could take a class at the other school.

— trying to prepare students for a different, more technological future.

“It’s our responsibility to prepare kids as best we can,” Director Sharon Catus of Stockton Springs said. “So that we’re graduating classes of young adults prepared to do the research in these cutting edge fields of our world.”

After the meeting, Superintendent Brian Carpenter said that there is no public proposal yet on the table for consolidation.

“It’s a work in progress,” he said, adding that he anticipates going public in December. “If I put it out there now, there will be all this misinformation.”

He said that the district, which struggled to pass a budget for the current fiscal year, will be facing at least a $2 million shortfall next year. The strapped district can’t afford to have state cuts for educational funding and subsidies, he said.

“We don’t have [$2 million] to cut anymore,” Carpenter said.

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