Crowd backs separate Mountain Valley, Dirigo high schools

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.

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Tim Rowley, top left, holds a sign that echoed the feelings of nearly 600 supporters of keeping Mountain Valley and Dirigo high schools separate, packing the Dirigo High School gymnasium, most wearing blue tee-shirts printed with “Save Dirigo” and “Endangered Species, Dirigo Cougars ” Monday night.

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.

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Don St Germain of Dixfield addresses the school board as a crowd of nearly 600 supporters of keeping Mountain Valley and Dirigo high schools separate pack the Dirigo High School gymnasium, most wearing blue tee-shirts printed with “Save Dirigo” and “Endangered Species, Dirigo Cougars ” Monday night.

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 's picture

Mexico and Rumford not so long ago were separate

School consolidation has to be looked at. A feasibility study of all the options would contribute a base of information from which people could draw rational conclusions.
But obviously many people have drawn their conclusions without the facts. Pride in school tradition is good. But it should not override a changing reality. The same pride and tradition can be developed for a consolidated Western Maine Foothills school system.
It would be very easy to fall in line with community pride. But I don't want the current school system. I want the one which will prepare our students for the best that life can give them.

“There's a special bond

“There's a special bond within our schools,” said 1991 Dirigo High School graduate and coach Don St. Germaine. hey there is a special bond in every school not just dirigo. nearly 600 show up to the meeting that is good , talk is good . but do you realize the 600 that showed up is almosy equal to the amount of kids in both high schools combined? call cougar pride , falcon pride , pinto pride and panther pride but cost are rising how do we pay? cut staff? cut programs? raise taxes?

Arrogance is The Term

It started when RSU's were formed to save money on the state level. Knowing quite well that it would put tax burdens on communities. Unfortunately the stupidity of voters approved of this RSU and now will pay the price for their vote. School costs will continue to rise year in an year out if something is not done NOW. Teacher salaries are up but do we get our bang for our buck here? Our system has an over abundance of Ed Techs that costs money to start. Class numbers are down yet we are overstaffed with the present way of doing education. There are senior citizens who can know longer handle extra school costs. It is time for change now. Education will not take a hit if you have dedicated teachers,who really want to teach; and are not in the profession just for the pay and vacation schedule. It is arrogance on the part of people who do not want change. The best way to save is to combine . Keep the best of the best to teach. Give teachers full classrooms for teaching. Make a high school what it is meant to be 9 through 12. A true Jr. High 6 through 8 like other districts; and then look at the best configuration for K through 5. Sports is secondary to a good education but a neccesity for building self worth. Doesn't matter what Class your in A,B,C or D sports wise. It is what sports are really intended to do for a student above getting educated properly. On the financial end will it also contribute to saving tax monies. That question is a no brainer,of course it will. So I say to those who want to leave things the way they are then you should pick up the extra costs that it involves. So those who vote to not change should be listed and the are the only ones to cover all extra taxes that will have to be raised to keep things the same.

 's picture

Did anyone else notice????

There were at least 4 uniformed police officers in the room during the meeting. I wonder what they were expecting to happen.



I talked to one officer from Mexico who attended because he was curious to hear what was said, not assigned to look for trouble. Like most everyone in attendance, he had a vested interest in decisions being made.
In my opinion. school systems are panicking everywhere. They do not receive enough money to pay the bills. Money is everything, and schools and towns struggle with how to save money. Numbers and statistics are compiled and compared. Options need to be discussed and presented.
I believe taxes will continue to rise as it is the only guaranteed revenue to pay the bills. State and feds are cutting and in the end, it is left in the hands of the boards to decide what can be done. You have to pay the bills, and cuts and major changes, some belt buckling for sure and hurt must be made. A necessary evil.
At issue to me from what I heard in the meeting last night was that the Cougar community was not prepared, or ready to make such a drastic change, so quickly, without enough time for everyone to digest the implications and make a rational decision. The good doctor said "you can blame me, it's my job." And it is he and the board that must make some difficult decisions in the future. It is a well represented group of individuals with diverse perspectives from what I heard and saw last night. In the end it may not be popular and create animosity and bad feelings for many.
Major changes are needed, the elected officials must make tough decisions. I was astounded by the turnout and it showed me a galvanized community. Cougar pride at it's best.


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