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What will RSU 10 schools look like in the future?
DIXFIELD -- If all goes as planned, RSU 10 will have a short-term facilities/program plan for their 10 district school buildings by the start of the next school year.
Supt. Tom Ward expressed that goal on June 25 as the process began the task of determining what that plan will entail. This was a followup to the Future Options Cafe workshop, attended by 80 people at the Mountain Valley Middle School on May 18.
Board members and administrators were divided among the six round tables and brainstormed for close to 75 minutes to come up their best idea for both short term (one to three years) and long term goals.
The guiding question through this is "Given the educational opportunities that we want for our children, what are the best options for the short term and long range facilities/program plan in RSU 10?"
Ward, in a conversation with the state education officials, said that the state is not accepting applications for school construction for the next two years. Further, it will be about 10 years out if a district gets on an approved list. "So any thoughts of a new regional high school would at least 12 years out."
He noted that their school facilities are maintain well. "I was told there are a lot more (buildings) out there in worse shape than those in RSU 10."
The state will have a revolving loan fund with about $10 million to work with, but those monies will go towards improvements related to health needs.
Ward noted that while they are taking applications for this, he was told there are facilities with major health needs more severe than any in RSU 10.
He said one of the issues RSU 10 is facing is the bus garage, currently located in the old industrial wing at Mountain Valley High School. The problem is air quality, as a result of gas fumes from buses with engines running and other fumes as the result of mechanical work, painting, etc. getting into the school.
The next issue, of course, will be where to have the buses houses, where at town garages or to lease a facility.
In a somewhat related matter, the University College at Rumford/Mexico, housed in the convent building of the former St. Theresa's Catholic Church in Mexico, is considering a move to that portion of the high school.
MVHS Principal Matt Gilbert said they waiting on information from the university regarding this potential move, but the timeline to received that information is unknown. If the move is made here, he said there is potential for fundign resources to accommodate the university.
Ward added that the university utilizes a distance learning program that all three RSU 10 high schools would be able to take advantage of.
Assistant Supt. Gloria Jenkins noted the world of education is much different than most people have experienced. It focuses on technology and student flexibility in a world system rather than just in a community. “Lifestyles are also changing. It's more fast-paced, with perhaps different family structures."
Changes to the current use of buildings are also necessary because of the slowly declining student enrollment, as well as the need to reduce operational and educational costs.
Board member Marcia Chaisson said studies showed that closing Rumford Elementary School and the Pennacook Learning Center alone, could save RSU 10 about $525,000 a year. Those two recommendations were made by several of the groups when they reported their top suggestions to the entire board and administrators.
If such a move is eventually made, that would mean that the students served in both buildings would have to be sent to other buildings. Among the suggestions for these students were sending grades fourth to six to Mountain Valley Middle School.
Ward cautioned the groups, "Closing a school will meet resistence. When we became a RSU, we agreed not to close a school for the first year. Some believe that meant we will never close a school. That's not true."
He then explained the process, which was used most recently with neighboring SAD 44 involved the Andover Elementary School. The first step is that the votes to close a school. Then information meeting(s) are held in that town to gather feedback. The board then make a decision and votes again. The town that the school is in then has the option to pick up funding to keep the school open, something that must be done every year to keep it open.
Short- and long-term recommendations coming from this workshop included:
* Sending Canton grades K-6 to the Hartford-Sumner Elementary School instead of Dirigo Elementary School in Peru which is at capacity.
* Closing Rumford Elementary School, sending K-2 pupils to Meroby Elementary School in Mexico and grades three to six to Mountain Valley Middle School.
* Combining the alternative education programs from the Dirigo and Mountain Valley regions.
* Housing grades eight-12 at Mountain Valley High School and sending grades four to seven to Mountain Valley Middle School.
* Redistricting RSU according to each school's capacity.
* Sending all middle school students to Dirigo High School and all high school students to Mountain Valley High School, while retaining the current structure at Buckfield Junior-Senior High School.
A very long-term plan could bring high school students from all three regions under one roof that would provide both academic and vocational education.
Looking at the population trends of the three high schools, the projection is for the current total of 904 students to drop to 755 for 2017-18, with the steepest drop being Dirigo, projected to fall from 326 students to 240. The drop in student population for the three middle school is less drastic, from 616 to 545.
Another workshop will take place following the regular board meeting on July 9.