June 20, 2018
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Unity-area school board: Transportation will not be privatized, elementary schools to stay open

By Abigail Curtis, BDN Staff

UNITY, Maine — School bus service for the 11 communities that belong to Regional School Unit 3 will not be privatized.

Nor will the board of directors pursue closing one of its small elementary schools as a cost-saving measure, after directors voted against both proposals during a well-attended regular board meeting held Monday night at the Unity Elementary School.

“We had a great turnout and we allowed a lot of give and take,” Phil Shibles of Knox, the RSU 3 chairman, said Tuesday afternoon. “It was a great exchange. I think people felt heard.”

The directors, who represent the towns of Brooks, Freedom, Jackson, Knox, Liberty, Monroe, Montville, Thorndike, Troy, Unity and Waldo, voted unanimously against the idea of privatizing the district’s transportation. Over the last year, the board members have been working to find more areas to save money — which officials said is difficult. Thanks to major federal and state funding decreases, the district already has had to cut nearly $4 million out of the budget since 2008.

“We’re at a point where there isn’t much left to cut,” RSU 3 Director Rachel Katz of Troy said Tuesday. “Now we’re like: What can we do without? Nothing. We already took that stuff out.”

The board reviewed transportation, which accounts for nearly $1 million of the far-flung district’s $19 million budget. It received three proposals from companies that offered to take over the district’s school buses, but Superintendent Heather Perry said only one of the three, a Massachusetts transportation company, offered potential savings of $65,000 the first year. The other two proposals would have increased transportation costs for the district, which recently cut $300,000 out of its budget by moving to a single bus run.

Katz said that the current bus drivers have served the district well, and some have done so for decades.

“There’s a guy who’s been a driver for 45 years. A lot of people have been drivers for 25 years or more. You don’t want to lose that. That’s an important culture,” she said. “Privatization is a slippery slope.”

A majority of board members also voted against beginning a one-year-long process to determine whether to close either Morse Memorial School in Brooks or Monroe Elementary School in Monroe.

“There’s a feeling by some that the small schools provide a great place for kids in the elementary grades,” said Shibles, who cast the lone dissenting vote.

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