December 25, 2013

RSU 12 high school situation remains unsettled

Wiscasset’s decision to withdraw from Regional School Unit 12 means more talks will be needed to find a new high school of record for area students.

By Susan McMillan smcmillan@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Students from Regional School Unit 12 attending Cony High School in Augusta have their spots guaranteed for the rest of the school year.

Beyond that, the situation is not settled for high school students from the eight-town district that will become seven towns in July.

Wiscasset voted in November to withdraw from RSU 12 on July 1, leaving the district without a high school of record that would be obligated to educate students living in the remaining seven towns: Alna, Chelsea, Palermo, Somerville, Westport Island, Whitefield and Windsor. Students now attending Wiscasset High School will be allowed to stay.

Earlier this month, the RSU 12 school board charged an ad hoc committee to find at least one school that will agree to be the high school of record, and hopefully several.

Superintendent Howard Tuttle said having more than one high school of record will reduce the burden on each one because they won’t have a concentration of students who have been disinvited elsewhere, and it will also provide students more options.

Students from the northern part of RSU 12 attend schools including Hall-Dale High School, Erskine Academy and Lincoln Academy in large numbers but can be disinvited without an expulsion hearing.

That was also the case for students at Cony, but RSU 12 negotiated a deal this fall to pay Augusta public schools a 5.25 percent tuition premium in exchange for a guarantee that those students can finish the year at Cony.

The next step for RSU 12 following the Wiscasset withdrawal vote is to work out which employees will stay with the RSU and which will be assigned to Wiscasset’s new independent school district. The withdrawal agreement approved by voters lists the Wiscasset employees by name, but Tuttle said some have changed because the list was created months ago.

This school year, for example, Assistant Superintendent Patricia Watts started working half time as principal of Wiscasset Primary School.

Negotiations about employees will take place with the new Wiscasset school board, which will be elected Jan. 7.

Of four towns to seek withdrawal from RSU 12, Wiscasset was the first to reach the ballot. Westport Island, which seemed it would be next, has requested and received an indefinite extension of its withdrawal process.

Westport Island has no schools in the town and has traditionally sent most of its students to Wiscasset. They have the option to continue attending there for 10 years, as long as space exists.

“There’s a lot up in the air with what Wiscasset will look like after a year or two, and Westport Island would just like to slow things down and have a chance to wait and see what the new Wiscasset (district) will look like,” Tuttle said.

Palermo’s withdrawal committee has met periodically with a committee representing the RSU. They have recently been focused on settling financial obligations such as the local debt for the construction of the new Chelsea Elementary.

Windsor also has a withdrawal committee that has been meeting regularly to develop a proposal to present to the RSU.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645smcmillan@centralmaine.comTwitter: @s_e_mcmillan
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