JAY — The Regional School Unit 73 board is expected to vote March 24 on a controversial plan to restructure grades at two elementary schools and a proposed budget for 2016-17.

The meeting is set for 6 p.m. in the Spruce Mountain High School cafeteria in Jay.

The board will hold another budget meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 22, at Spruce Mountain Middle School cafeteria to get answers to questions raised at Thursday night’s meeting.

The $18.84 million budget is $294,006, less than this fiscal year, which ends June 30. Energy costs are less, but staffing is higher.

There is $60,000 to lease three buses, and board member Shari Ouellette of Jay asked if the district could get by with only one this year.

Transportation Director Kenneth Vining said if two are taken out this year, they will be needed next year.

In a review of athletic programs, Athletic Director James Black listed student participation in fall, winter and spring sports for the past three years.

Ouellette suggested cutting any sports program with fewer than 10 participants.

Board member Tammy Frost disagreed because cross country is a newer program and those that stay low in the number of participants over time can be looked at later, she said.

Middle and high school teacher Rob Taylor said moving Spruce Mountain athletics from the Mountain Valley Conference to the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference a few years ago has resulted in longer travel distances because they are playing different teams.

School districts determine which conference its teams play in.

The Maine Principals Association determines which class a school plays in, based on enrollment.

“It may be time to literally blow up some of these conferences and rethink the way we do athletics,” Taylor said.

Board members asked for a listing of all co-curricular programs.

Jay resident Judy Diaz asked that $20,000 to be cut from co/extra-curricular activities, but some board members said it could impact student attendance and success.

The plan to put all pre-kindergarten to second-grade students at the Livermore Elementary School and all third, fourth and fifth grade students at Jay Elementary School, starting in the fall, drew more questions Thursday night.

Superintendent Kenneth Healey said previously that putting all students in the same grade in the same building would provide academic continuity and better education for students and improve staff communication.

Jay Elementary School teacher Rhonda Bean said there hasn’t been as much time for teachers to prepare for this change as there was when the sixth grades were moved to Spruce Mountain Middle School in Jay. She also said elementary teachers give instruction in multiple subjects, unlike the the middle school teachers who have fewer subjects to teach. Therefore, the elementary teachers have more subjects to align.

Concerns were raised over longer travel times for students and families having to pick up students from several schools.

“Putting a 5-year-old on a bus at 6:25 a.m. may not be the best thing for the student. There is a big difference between a concept and a plan,” Pike said.

Donna Labbe, a fourth grade teacher at Jay, said she knows in her heart it’s a great plan, but there are still many unanswered questions, such as how class trips will be affected.

“We need more and ongoing meetings,” she said.

The board has the final say on the restructuring plan, Superintendent Kenneth Healey said, because it’s district policy. He said the voters are represented by their elected representatives.

Board Chairwoman Denis Rodzen of Livermore Falls said the board would vote on the budget March 24, unless it needs more time.

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