RSU 16 board votes to consolidate middle schools

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POLAND — The School Committee Monday night voted to accept the Middle School Exploration Committee’s recommendation that RSU 16 have a single tri-town middle school. About 200 residents were in attendance.

Currently seventh- and eighth-graders in the district are educated at the Minot Consolidated, the Elm Street School in Mechanic Falls and Whittier Middle School in Poland.

All students from all three schools will attend Whittier in the fall.

Two committee members voted against. it, Scott Sawyer of Poland and Jack Wiseman of Mechanic Falls.

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Colleen Quint, who chaired the Exploration Committee, said that the bottom line was that the committee felt a single tri-town middle school will “provide the best education for our kids, and it saves the district more money at a time when the fiscal crisis is very real.”

The tri-town middle school will save the district at least $240,000 over other options studied.

School Superintendent Dennis Duquette said that the budget now stands at $17.7 million with the single middle school.

This figure reinstates K-6 music and adds a half-time physical education/wellness position.

According to Duquette, the budget, as of now, would increase taxes by about $127,000.

The potential tax impact for the three towns is as follows: Mechanic Falls would see a tax increase of about $36 on a $100,000 home, Minot would see an increase of $45, and Poland would see an annual increase of about 48 cents.

The decision to go with the single middle school option was not made lightly and was the subject of much debate.

School Committee Chairman Dave Griffiths pointed out that the decision was driven by the knowledge that this option saved the taxpayers $240,000.

“We met with municipal officials last week. There was very little enthusiasm for any tax increase,” Griffiths said.

Griffiths, as chairman, did not vote, but said that if he had voted he would have voted to keep Elm Street just the way it is and not move middle-schoolers to Poland.

Several parents and students also spoke in favor of having two middle schools for the district by retaining the one at Elm Street.

“We love what we have, please slow down,” Mechanic Falls resident Carol Ustach said.

Others called for fiscal responsibility and no tax increases.

Poland resident George Sanborn noted that spending is out of control in Washington and in Augusta.

“We should teach our children how to control spending,” Sanborn said.

Mechanic Falls resident Jim Marston questioned whether everything really was on the table and whether the School Committee had done all it could to save money.

Marston wanted to know if the budget would include raises for teachers and whether there was a pay freeze.

Duquette said that he had spoken with the teachers’ union and they had said that they did not want to open negotiations at this time.

Speaking for the teachers’ union, its Co-President Mike Carter said the teachers had sacrificed with four furlough days this year, but at this time believed that the board should look at other options.

“We have faith that the members of these communities will continue to carefully assess the balance between providing the resources your children need to meet their personal best and the ability and willingness of the taxpayers to fund them,” Carter said.

In the next few weeks the School Committee will take formal action to approve a budget and, Duquette said, would like to hold a three-town meeting on May 3 to discuss the budget before taking it to a referendum vote on May 11.

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