BUCKFIELD — RSU 10 Superintendent Tom Ward, along with local school board representatives Jerry Wiley and Maida Demers-Dobson fielded questions from selectmen and residents, as well as explained the advantages and processes of the merged district during an 80-minute session at the selectman's meeting Tuesday night.
Some residents were concerned that school taxes continue to increase despite the merging of the former SAD 39 (Buckfield), SAD 21 (Dixfield), and SAD 43 districts (Rumford and Mexico) more than three years ago.
And although rumors have circulated that Buckfield may want to try to withdraw from RSU 10, selectman Chairman Robin Buswell said he has no knowledge of such an action, and he would not want the town to withdraw.
Ward said Buckfield has experienced an increase in property valuation during the past few years which is one reason why Buckfield school taxes have increased.
Also, he said the percent of state aid to education has not reached the state mandated 55 percent of Essential Programs and Services.
“The school district has no control over state aid and property valuation,” he said.
Buckfield's amount of school taxes have risen since it joined RSU 10, but those same taxes also rose for each of the previous seven years, except for 2007-08.
Ward said when former Gov. John Baldacci realized that the state could not provide the promised 55 percent of school funding, the mandate for school districts to merge came about.
The idea was for the state to save money in state aid as well as for districts to save money operating their systems, and although an increase has been experienced by most districts, Ward said it isn't as much as it could have because of merging and the shared services and ability to move teachers where they were most needed, or eliminated.
During the past three years, he said about 60 positions have been eliminated, resulting in a savings of at least $2.6 million.
For Buckfield specifically, several offerings now benefit the students or the Nezinscot schools such as $1 million in new technology, $500,000 in maintenance costs, and the new Tandberg Interactive system that allows Buckfield students to take higher level courses offered in other parts of the school district.
And because the three former SADs are now joined, all teachers and areas in the region learn from each other, he said.
Resident Judy Berg asked why RSU 10 has the same budget, at $35.1 million, as nearby RSU 17 in the Oxford Hills when RSU 10 has 600 fewer students.
Ward said RSU 17 has one high school and one set of sports and other co-curricular activities, while RSU 10 has three high schools and three sets of sports teams and co-curricular activities.
He said there are no plans for a merged high school for many years to come. Instead, the RSU 10 board has contracted with a consulting firm to come up with population trends for the next 10 years in the region's 12 towns.
Once that data is presented, RSU 10 plans to reorganize by region.
“Buckfield is our model,” he said.
The former SAD 39 district has one school for pre-K through grade 6, and the second for seventh- through 12th-grade.