BUCKFIELD — The superintendent of RSU 10 told a crowd of Buckfield, Hartford and Sumner residents Tuesday night that school consolidation was saving money and breaking free would be costly and time-consuming for the towns.

The gathering at the Buckfield Municipal Building was a public hearing for a petition to have Buckfield withdraw from RSU 10, which includes 12 towns. The question will be on the town meeting warrant, and a matching petition is circulating in Sumner.

About 40 residents of the three towns crowded in for the hearing Tuesday to express their opinions and question RSU 10 Superintendent Tom Ward on what they were getting for their education costs.

Judy Berg, a member of the Buckfield Budget Committee and the leading proponent of the withdrawal effort, pointed out that the Oxford Hills School District in Oxford pays far less per student.

Ward said that was due partly to a temporary waiver that SAD 17 received so it wouldn’t have to pay 100 percent of what the state normally requires districts to spend to receive state aid. That waiver is coming to a close, Ward said, and SAD 17 is scrambling to prepare for the higher costs. “They know they’ve got to play catch up,” Ward said.

He said the other reason for the disparity is that SAD 17 has one high school, Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School, while RSU 10 has three. That means three schools with their own extracurricular and co-curricular activities and athletic facilities. “That’s three times the opportunities our kids have to get involved with their schools,” he said.

He said the amount a town pays to the district is calculated by the town’s valuation and the number of students enrolled.

Berg also pointed out that not all of the selling points for consolidation, such as expanded languages in schools, had been achieved. Students have only French and Spanish to choose from, she said.

Ward said the system had been working toward the improvements, but acknowledged that languages and the condition of school buildings were lacking.

Last Thursday, Dixfield signed an agreement with RSU 10 that effectively ended the withdrawal petition, although Dixfield selectmen and town voters must first approve it.

It includes a 10-year facilities plan that calls for maintaining all three district high schools, including Buckfield Junior-Senior High School, Dirigo High School in Dixfield and Mountain Valley High School in Rumford.

Ward said the district wouldn’t be bound to that agreement if there was a 25 percent drop in students or a large decrease in state funding, however.

RSU 10 is comprised of Buckfield, Hartford, Sumner, Rumford, Mexico, Roxbury, Byron, Dixfield, Carthage, Canton, Peru and Hanover.

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