DIXFIELD — The Falcons and the Cougars may be sharing a nest in the not-too-distant future, if a tentative proposal by RSU 10 Superintendent Tom Ward is approved by the board.
Ward announced to all staff in the district late Tuesday that a proposal for a feasibility study for reconfiguring Mountain Valley and Dirigo schools will be presented to the Board of Directors on March 12.
Dirigo students are Cougars and Mountain Valley students are Falcons.
“Once people get over the emotional part, we would be looking at many potential academic benefits,” Ward said Wednesday morning.
RSU 10 includes 11 towns in three regions: Rumford, Mexico, Roxbury and Byron in Mountain Valley; Dixfield, Canton, Carthage and Peru in Dirigo; and Buckfield, Hartford and Sumner in Nezinscot Valley; plus Hanover.
Residents and school staff have discussed the possibility of combining Mountain Valley High School and Dirigo High School ever since Peru joined the former SAD 21 in Dixfield nearly a decade ago.
The proposal would also change which schools many students would attend, and keep all seven school buildings open.
A high school merger would mean the resulting teams would compete in Class B sports. Now, Dirigo competes in Class C and Mountain Valley is in Class B in most sports.
Declining student enrollments together with increasing costs have prompted RSU 10's administrative team to look at both fiscal savings and academic benefits.
RSU 10 is in the midst of developing its 2012-13 operating budget. And although most cost centers have presented flat budget figures, Ward said the final proposed budget could go to $37 million because of built-in hikes, such as contract salary agreements and increasing utility and fuel costs.
This year's budget is $34.1 million.
With the proposed reconfiguration of schools, costs associated with duplication of services, sports and extracurricular activities would be reduced, the need for two modular classrooms at Dirigo Middle School eliminated, and the need to fill every vacant staff position created by retirement or attrition would virtually end.
As proposed, Mountain Valley High School would become the high school. It would serve 547 students in grades 10-12.
Dirigo High School would become a junior high school serving 372 students in grades 8-9.
Mountain Valley Middle School would remain a middle school, but would serve 335 students in grades 5-7.
Dirigo Middle School would also remain a middle school, but would serve 174 students in grades 5-7.
The three elementary schools would no longer house fifth-graders. At Rumford elementary, student enrollment would be 270 prekindergarten to grade 4; at Dirigo elementary, 317 prekindergarten to grade 4; and at Meroby elementary, 246 prekindergarten to grade 4.
If the two high schools do merge, students would choose new colors, and a new name for the high school, and a new mascot.
Ward said if the board approves pursuing a feasibility study, additional special meetings will be held to gather staff, community and student comments during the next few months.
He said the idea for a reconfiguration came from feedback across the district.
“We looked at closing buildings, but because of the number of students, it wouldn't be cost effective to renovate. We're always looking for ways to save money. We looked at Spruce Mountain (Jay and Livermore Falls), as well,” Ward said.
He said Buckfield Junior-Senior High School would not be involved in the possible merger of the Mountain Valley and Dirigo regions, except that it would benefit by receiving distance-learning courses.
Ward said the population for the Mountain Valley and Dirigo regions is dropping, while the Buckfield region is remaining stable.
The formal presentation on a feasibility study will be held at 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 12, at Dirigo High School.
“This (potential) change is difficult and emotional,” Ward said.