RUMFORD — Special education students represent almost 26% of the student population of Regional School Unit 10, compared to 18.23% statewide, Superintendent Deb Alden told the board of directors at its meeting Tuesday.

“The state percentage went up 2% from 2012-13 to 2016-17, and the percentage (at RSU 10) went up 4%,” she said. “So it doubled, it kind of almost worked in tandem, it doubled the increase.”

Representatives of the Gear Up program attend the Regional School Unit 10 board of directors meeting Tuesday evening in Rumford. From left, front are students Kaylee Arsenault and Andrew Palmer and teacher Christopher Carver, all of Mountain Valley High School in Rumford,  and back, Gear Up coordinator Lisa Drapeau and Principal Ryan Casey, both of Mountain Valley Middle School in Mexico. Rumford Falls Times photo by Marianne Hutchinson

Also affecting the increase for RSU 10 was the withdrawal of Canton, Carthage, Dixfield, Peru and Byron from the district in 2016, Alden said.

“Then you take out those towns and our percentage is quite a bit higher,” she said.

The district includes Rumford, Mexico, Roxbury, Buckfield, Sumner, Hartford and Hanover.

Buckfield Director Michelle Casey asked Alden whether the state might consider reimbursing the district more than the “15 percent threshold” in special education funding.

Alden said she had not heard if it was likely.

In other business, administrators from Mountain Valley High School in Rumford, Buckfield Junior-Senior High School and Mountain Valley Middle School in Mexico, along with three students gave a presentation on the federally funded Gear Up program at the three schools.

Christopher Carver, a teacher and Gear Up adviser at the Rumford high school, said the program is in its fifth year of a seven-year grant. The school receives $22,000 per year but has “lost a significant amount of funding” since the program’s start, he said.

“In the beginning, it was a seven-year $700,000 grant but there have been federal cuts and cuts to our local programs as well,” he said.

Most of the funds pay for taking students to colleges and paying for their meals, Buckfield school Principal George Reuter said.

“We talk about going to (visit) colleges, but really Gear Up is about transitioning to the next phase,” he said. “So if it’s a certificate program, or joining the military, it’s whatever (students want) so that when you leave the high school you know what the next steps are. We present a lot of opportunities.”

Rumford high school students Kaylee Arsenault and Andrew Palmer said Gear Up has helped them.

“I’m earning my diploma this year and I can say with utmost certainty that I (would not be) attending college this fall if not for Gear Up,” Arsenault said. She got help filing her Free Application for Federal Student Aid form for college tuition through the program.

Buckfield high school student Jenna Doucette, a representative on the RSU 10 board of directors, said Gear Up gave the school’s theater group and civil rights team the opportunity to go to the University of Maine in Augusta to watch a film about the Holocaust. They “learned some valuable things about the Holocaust and we also got to tour the college,” she said.

In other matters, Director Janet Brennick of Mexico said Bangor Savings Bank branches in Rumford and Dixfield are collecting peanut butter, jelly and marshmallow creme until Friday to donate to families of students in need at Rumford Elementary School and Dirigo Elementary School in Peru.

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