DIXFIELD — The RSU 10 board will continue the 2012-13 budget process without figuring in a possible merger of two of its high schools and the reconfiguration of several other school buildings following two hours of presentations and discussions at Monday's board meeting.
Nearly 600 supporters of keeping Mountain Valley and Dirigo high schools separate packed the Dirigo High School gymnasium, most wearing blue T-shirts printed with “Save Dirigo” and “Endangered Species, Dirigo Cougars.”
The show of support was the result of an option for reducing RSU 10 costs proposed by Superintendent Tom Ward that would combine all Mountain Valley and Dirigo 10-12 graders at Mountain Valley High School, all 8-9 graders at Dirigo High School, and reconfigure Dirigo and Mountain Valley regions' pre K-grade 7 students in the two middle schools and three elementary schools.
“There's a special bond within our schools,” said 1991 Dirigo High School graduate and coach Don St. Germaine. “The primary concern is our students.”
He and other Dirigo supporters pointed out the differences in grading periods, grading, and co-curricular policies between the two schools, as well as the belief that bus trips in the proposed reconfigured regions would require longer time on buses to get to and from the schools.
Board members also objected to seeing just one option for trying to cut costs.
Ward said without such a reconfiguring of the two regions, the 2012-13 budget could go as high as $37 million, up from the current operating figure of $34.1 million.
“We've worked well together. I think we really need to scrutinize this (proposed) budget,” said Dixfield board member Barbara Chow. “The job of the 17 (board members) is to look at this big budget. Ask the staff for ideas. I know they'll respond.”
Dixfield representative and board vice-chairman, Bruce Ross, believes there are other options to look at that could provide lower costs.”We must decide what is best for our communities. Part of our job is to do a more intensive study,” he said.
Rumford representative Tracey Higley said he was not in favor of moving the proposal forward by conducting a feasibility study of Ward's plan.
“This was sprung on us. There are other options. We should do it once and do it right. Six months won't do it,” he said. Had the feasibility study moved forward, plans were to put the new reconfiguration into action at the beginning of the next school year.
Mexico representative Betty Barrett argued to go ahead with the feasibility study, citing the declining student enrollment.
“I don't want to give up on this. It'll happen in two years,” she said.
Ward said the board had three options: to go ahead with the proposed merger using either the Jay/Livermore Falls model, which combined teams the first year, and will combine the two high schools next year, or the Rockland-St. George model, which combined the two high schools all at once, or working through the budget process with all schools remaining as they are.
When some board members suggested closing one or more schools as a cost-cutting measure, Ward said one could be closed if there is a place to send the students. Right now, he said there isn't and state money for new schools is many years in the future.
Ward said a committee will likely be set up at the next board meeting on March 26 to study both long- and short-term plans for the region. He also said that to reduce the proposed tentative budget of $37 million will mean major cuts in both educational programs and staff. The region has operated on the same budget for three years.