BAR HARBOR — Two years ago, a 16-member committee of teachers, administrators, school board members, parents and other community members recommended creating a separate middle school in the Mount Desert Island Regional School System.
Before moving ahead with planning, the school board asked the town boards in each of the communities served by the school system to ask voters at their 2020 town meetings if they wanted their school officials to pursue the idea of a middle school. The response was largely positive.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic intervened, and school officials had more urgent matters to deal with.
Now, the school system board wants to restart the planning process. In a workshop late last month, board members informally agreed to form a committee to develop a specific, detailed plan.
“We all agree that philosophically and educationally we want a middle school,” said school board Chairman Kristie Losquadro. “But where would that middle school be? Can we afford it? How would we pay for it?”
The ad hoc committee that in 2019 recommended creating a middle school felt strongly that it should be in a new, separate building on the campus of MDI High School. The committee said in its report to the school board that its vision was for “a combined middle school that directly targets the ever-evolving academic, social and emotional needs of its young adolescents.”
School system restructuring
Two months ago, an ad hoc committee of the school board recommended that the school system be restructured to increase efficiency and make it less cumbersome to manage.
In the recent workshop, board members unanimously agreed to form a reorganizational committee to work out the details of a proposed new structure and how it would function. That committee is to be officially created at a future board meeting.
The previous, ad hoc committee recommended switching to a Regional School Unit (RSU) model. Under that model, nearly everything about the way the individual schools currently operate would remain the same. In each town, the school principal would propose an annual budget and the elected school committee would adopt it.
But instead of the budget being voted on at the town’s annual Town Meeting, each school’s budget would be folded into a single district budget, which residents of all the member towns would have an opportunity to vote on at a district-wide meeting.
Currently, the school system’s central office has to manage and report to the state on 11 school budgets – one for each of the eight elementary school in the school district, one for the high school, one for the high school trustees and one for the central office.
Also, with the RSU model, teachers and support staff would be employees of the school system, not the individual schools.
“This change would allow teachers to pursue positions in other schools in the district without losing their seniority,” said board member Ingrid Kachmar, who chaired the ad hoc committee. “It would allow for position changes with greater ease and make possible better allocation of staff resources.”
Losquadro said, “We’re trying to establish equity among all of our towns, with all of the children receiving equal services and resources, an equal education.
“We also have to consider the impact on our teachers, our support staff and administrator and the impact that reorganization might have on the individual school communities. There are a lot of details to be considered, including the impact on local control and decision making and funding.”