SOUTHWEST HARBOR — A call for greater cooperation within the Mount Desert Island Regional School System has school officials considering an arrangement that would split older students from younger ones at the K-8 schools in Southwest Harbor and Tremont.
The idea was discussed at a Nov. 18 joint meeting of school committees from both towns. According to school Superintendent Howard Colter, the most likely scenario would be for students in kindergarten through fourth grade to attend the Tremont Consolidated School. Students in the upper grades would attend the Pemetic Elementary School in Southwest Harbor. The two schools roughly are five miles apart.
The benefits of such a move include an increase in educational opportunities and greater exposure to peers, Colter said. Class sizes at both schools can be small. At Tremont, one class has only eight students, Colter said.
The idea isn’t new and was proposed during discussions of consolidating the Tremont and Pemetic schools held in 2011 and 2012. Three models for consolidation, including the split-class scenario, were put before voters in straw polls held in both towns in the spring of 2012.
Voters in Southwest Harbor overwhelmingly supported an option that would close the Tremont school and have students from both towns attend Pemetic. The least popular option there was splitting students between the two schools.
In Tremont, the results were much different. Voters there heavily favored the status quo, keeping things the same. The split-class option was the second most popular, gaining almost half as many votes.
The consolidation issue was put to rest shortly after the straw poll, when the Tremont School Committee unanimously voted to take no further action on any form of consolidation.
Consolidation was discussed briefly at the Nov. 18 meeting, Colter said.
“Everyone thought that wasn’t going to happen for several years,” he said.
The rising cost of public education and declining enrollments were behind the consolidation effort. Saving money is not the object with the latest proposal.
“Money would not be a driving force here,” Colter said.
School committee members from both towns were amenable to the plan, Colter said. Putting the plan into action would not happen overnight.
It might be possible to make the switch for the 2017-2018 school year, he said.
“The idea is that we would try it for two or three years,” he explained. “It would be a well-thought-out trial run.”
Colter said he believes the “trial run” could go into effect without input from voters. If it were to become permanent, approval would be needed from voters in both towns.
There could be other advantages to the arrangement, Colter said. Life skills and summer school classes, now held at both schools, could be housed at one school. There also is the possibility of coordinating food service programs at the schools, he added.
School committees in Bar Harbor and Mount Desert are to meet jointly to discuss what services those two schools might share. That meeting and the one in Southwest Harbor are to “promote more dialogue and cooperation among the schools than we’ve seen in the past,” Colter said.