As enrollment drops, school district considers scrapping K-5 model

Donna Buttarazzi | York County Coast Star
Donna Buttarazzi | York County Coast Star
A teacher guides his third-grade class down the hallway at Kennebunkport Consolidated School in this 2017 York County Coast Star file photo.
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An opponent called the discussion "heartbreaking" and "astounding."
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KENNEBUNK, Maine — In response to declining enrollment at Kennebunkport Consolidated School, the Regional School Unit 21 Board of Directors voted to further explore two proposals that would reconfigure the district’s elementary schools starting in the fall of 2020.

The proposals would eliminate the kindergarten through fifth-grade model at Consolidated School and Mildred L. Day School in Arundel.

An enrollment task force came up with three options for balancing enrollment, which were presented to the board at a June 3 meeting. Option one would retain the current kindergarten through fifth grade structures at KCS and M.L. Day School and adjust catchment lines to capture new incoming Kennebunk and Arundel students to supplement KCS enrollment, while grandfathering existing families.

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Option two would turn M.L. Day into a pre-kindergarten through second grade school for Arundel and Kennebunkport students, and have third through fifth grades at KCS for Arundel and Kennebunkport students.

Option three would create three pre-kindergarten schools — Kennebunk Elementary School, KCS and M.L. Day — and would place all district fourth- and fifth-graders at Sea Road School, while moving some students from Kennebunk to KCS to supplement enrollment.

After lengthy discussion Monday, the board voted to eliminate option one, and create a committee to explore how options two and three might work to solve the current enrollment crisis at Consolidated School.

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“I really can’t support looking into option one, it doesn’t make sense, it’s too fluid,” said board member Mary Beth Luce, of Arundel. “I think that if we are going to look at making substantial change to the schools our students attend, then the only long-term solutions are options two and three.”

“I think we need to get option one out of there. If you start grandfathering families, it doesn’t make any sense to me,” agreed board member Maureen King, of Kennebunkport.

Board member Sarah Dore, who represents Kennebunkport and made the motion to create a committee to further explore the three options, agreed with Luce and King, and amended her motion to exclude the option that would retain the K-5 structure in Kennebunkport and Arundel.

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Kennebunkport parent Gaby Grekin, who was a member of the enrollment task force, spoke at the meeting, saying she’s disappointed that the board is in favor of eliminating option one and the K-5 school model.

“It’s heartbreaking to hear you all say this and not hear a single voice on the board defending our current K-5 structure,” Grekin said. “I feel like families from Consolidated and Arundel have said again and again and again this year that it is worth preserving. That is what we like, that’s what we have. I just need to make clear that you are saying you are ready to let go of the K-5 structure in our district, without considering that it is worth preserving. This is astounding.”

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“Option 1 is the cleanest solution in terms of a lack of disruption,” Kennebunkport resident Traci Gere said. “The urgency of fixing the problems can be addressed by moving some of the catchment lines and moving some of those kids to Consolidated School. I want to make sure we are looking at things objectively. I feel like Option 1 was discarded without really looking at what it brings to the table, which is an ease — you really just move some lines and reassign some kids and grandfather where that is necessary, and then the enrollment becomes more balanced. The other two options are major transformations for the district.”

Ira Camp said he had not heard from Arundel parents who wanted to keep the K-5 model at Mildred L. Day School.

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“I think if we are really trying to keep the approach of three towns one community, and diversity equity and inclusion, I don’t think we should think along the lines of town lines anymore,” Camp said.

Dan Dubois, a member of the Arundel Board of Selectmen, said the key for his constituents is that students who start school together will move together through elementary school and aren’t split up further.

“I think that’s really the key and all three options do that,” Dubois said.

He said people have expressed concerns over long bus rides and if that is addressed he hasn’t heard any other concerns from Arundel parents.

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Board member Rachel Phipps said that while she didn’t support option one because she didn’t think redrawing catchment areas would work, she voted against removing it from consideration because “I think if people are passionate about it, there’s certainly no reason not to look at all three.”

In an email to the York County Coast Star Wednesday, Arundel resident Melissa Whall said she remembered discussions in 2016 where district officials assured her and other Arundel families that M.L. Day School would remain a K-5 school for at least the next 10 years based on enrollment projections for the town.

Whall said she would be fine with the change to the school structure if it went to a town vote, but “I’m not okay with yet another arbitrary decision by the board with essentially zero public input or say.”

 



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