POLAND — Town officials from Mechanic Falls, Minot and Poland on Wednesday weighed in with ideas on the direction their shared school district should take as it develops a five-year strategic plan.
Topping the list of what needs to be done were calls for better communications among the three towns and the Regional School Unit 16 School Committee, fiscal restraint in school spending and the creation of a truly unified school district.
Calls for a “flat” budget, later modified to mean a budget that would keep property tax rates flat, came from all quarters.
Minot Selectman Eda Tripp noted that the budget to run the town had increased no more that $100,000 since the year 2000, whereas the town's school assessment had more than doubled, going from about $800,000 to more than $1.6 million.
Mechanic Falls Town Councilor Bob Small noted that the principle of fairness dictated that everybody be treated fairly, and in these times, when it is evident the people of his town were struggling, the town responded by essentially freezing wages for its employees for a number of years, and only this year offered a small increase.
“During this time, teachers were getting big increases,” Small said.
Poland Selectman Larry Moreau noted that residents in all three towns still refer to the school in their individual town as “my” school and not “our” school, something that officials from all three towns recognized as a consequence of the fact that the RSU was the creation the state's efforts to force school consolidation.
“If we are going to create a true RSU, we should integrate all our students, beginning with pre-K and moving on up,” Moreau said.
The call for a study to determine whether realigning all schools across the district — with perhaps all pre-K through grade two at Minot Consolidated School, grades three to six at Poland Community School, the middle school moved to Elm Street School — might prove more efficient and create the desired unity.
Among the practical suggestions made were the renaming of all schools and giving thought to calling members of the high school's athletic teams something other that the “Poland” Knights.
“I thought from the beginning the school should have been called Bakerstown High," Tripp said. "When this area was settled, all of Mechanic Falls, Minot and Poland, that was the name."
The RSU 16 School Committee will continue gathering community input with meetings in each of the three towns in January.
Meetings will be held at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 9 in the gymnasium at Mechanic Falls' Elm Street School; at 10 a.m. Jan. 12 in the multi-purpose room at Poland Community School; and at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 22 at the Minot Consolidated School gymnasium. The meetings are expected to last about two hours.
Community surveys are available at town offices in all three towns and soon will be available online.