February 6

RSU 11 board rejects both enrollment-balancing options

The school board for the Gardiner-based Regional School Unit 11 voted Thursday night to reject the two options to solve disproportionate populations at its elementary schools.

By Paul Koenig pkoenig@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

GARDINER — The school board for Regional School Unit 11 voted to not take any action Thursday night in solving space issues at the district’s elementary schools.

The school board had narrowed solutions to overcrowding at Helen Thompson in West Gardiner and too few students at Randolph-based T.C. Hamlin School down to two options, but the superintendent said at the meeting she wouldn’t recommend either.

One option would have forced some students from West Gardiner and Gardiner to change schools, and the other choice would have closed T.C. Hamlin.

“Honestly, I don’t like either option,” Superintendent Patricia Hopkins said. “I think they’re both short-term solutions that are not addressing the long-term solution you’ve been seeking. I think that the savings show that – whether they’re 100 percent or not – they’re kind of a wash.”

She said it wouldn’t be fair to students, parents and others in the district if the school board shifted students to other schools, only to have to redraw the boundry lines for schools a few years later.

Hopkins also said the board could regret closing T.C. Hamlin if population growth in Randolph caused the district to need a school there again.

“I would hate to see the board in a position where you have to go back the community, ‘Oops, we don’t have enough space,’” she said.

After around two hours of discussion, the board voted not to do either option and to explore funding a population study to try finding a more permanent solution to the disproportionate population at the schools.

Hopkins presented her analysis of the estimated savings and costs for the options to the school board and about 60 members of the public at the meeting, held in the Gardiner Regional Middle School gymnasium.

The option that included the closing of T.C. Hamlin had estimated net savings of around $75,000, but it could change depending on whether the building is sold or retained.

The other redistricting option didn’t show a significant estimated net savings.

No one spoke in favor of either proposal, and parents advocating against both options.

Helen Thompson has 289 students, according to figures provided at the meeting, and a building capacity of 260. T.C. Hamlin has 96 students with a building capacity of 155.

Diana Gorham, of Randolph, spoke out against closing T.C. Hamlin. She said the school is the core of the community.

Several parents from West Gardiner spoke against the proposal to shift their students to Gardiner schools.

When asked by a parent whether the district could just expand at Helen Thompson, board Vice Chairman Eric Jermyn said it would be hard to allocate money for it with more space available at T.C. Hamlin.

“Personally, I find it really hard to justify construction at a school when we have capacity overall in the district,” Jermyn said.

Board Chairwoman Becky Fles said she’s worried that having so few students at T.C. Hamlin means they don’t have as many opportunities as other students in the district. The school has a teaching principal instead of a full-time administrator now.

One of the options called for the district to move some West Gardiner students at Helen Thompson to Gardiner’s two elementary schools, which are split by grade. Pre-kindergarten through second grade would go to Laura E. Richards School and third through fifth grades would go to River View Community School.

Gardiner students living off of Highland Avenue to Northern Avenue and from Maine Avenue to Adams Street would be sent to T.C. Hamlin School.

In the other scenario, the district would close T.C. Hamlin and send all Randolph elementary students to River View. Laura E. Richards and River View would become kindergarten-through-fifth grade schools, and the district would build modular classrooms at Helen Thompson for additional space.

Paul Koenig — 207-621-5663 pkoenig@centralmaine.com Twitter: @paul_koenig
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