BAR HARBOR — Whether school consolidation in some form is desirable – and perhaps inevitable – and how it might be accomplished, will be the focus of a special workshop that the Mount Desert Island Regional School System (MDIRSS) board plans to hold June 15.
No date has yet been set.
With enrollment at most of the district’s schools continuing to decline, and with Superintendent Howard Colter touting the advantages of a district-wide middle school, board members have decided they need to seriously consider the potential educational and financial benefits of consolidation.
“Consolidation is coming; there’s no doubt in my mind,” board member Eric Henry of Southwest Harbor said at the MDIRSS board meeting last week.
Colter said that while schools in some parts of the country have classes that are too large, the opposite is sometimes the problem in this district.
“It’s as much of a challenge educationally, in my opinion, having a class that’s too small,” he said. “Neither is ideal.
“When I see classes that are 10 students or fewer per grade, and we have schools that are literally a couple of miles apart, I have to wonder why we don’t think about the possibility of grouping those children and maybe grouping those teachers.
“We all talk about doing what’s best for kids,” Colter continued. “Well, I’m not sure small class sizes, as small as I see too often, are necessarily the best thing for children.”
Colter said he isn’t talking about creating classes of 25 students or more.
“I guess my dream number would be around 16-17 kids.”
Board member Susan Allen of Southwest Harbor said there are many factors to consider when talking about the possibility of school consolidation, but she doesn’t think large class sizes should be a concern.
“We’re still on a tiny rock with not many people,” she said.
Most school board members agreed that before even preliminary decisions about consolidation are made, there needs to be a demographic study and a projection of growth in the district’s school-age population over the next 10 years or so. They also said they would like for Colter to develop at least a rough proposal for school consolidation for the board and the public to react to.
Colter agreed, saying, “We need to develop a template, then invite everybody in. Teachers and parents need to be involved.”
He repeated his call for creating a single middle school, saying it is the right thing to do.
“There’s not one bit of me doubting that,” he said. “What you could do for the children, bringing them together socially, educationally … it would be very exciting, and it’s deserved.”
“Amen!” said Kelley Sanborn, the school district’s director of special services.
Board members acknowledged that the creation of a single middle school for the entire district would almost certainly lead to some elementary school consolidation.
“Once you pull all the middle school students out of the elementary schools, what’s left is maybe not a whole school,” board member Kristi Losquadro of Bar Harbor said. “So, it’s not just [a question of] a consolidated middle school. I think it’s time for the bigger conversation about what makes sense.”
The board agreed to schedule a special workshop, perhaps a half-day long, to discuss the pros, cons and feasibility of school consolidation and to hear from teachers, parents and other members of the public on the issue.
This story was updated on May 11 to include the date of the meeting.