BAR HARBOR — Marc Gousse, superintendent of the Mount Desert Island Regional School System, wants to make one thing clear. The purpose of the upcoming public forums on long-range planning is not to set the stage or get community buy-in for closing any schools.
The specter of school closures has been conjured up in recent years by declining enrollments in some of the district’s schools.
“But I see enrollments now as stable and slightly increasing,” Gousse said. “Where I think we can improve is with networking [among the schools] … and realizing efficiencies in areas such as food service, transportation and maintenance that don’t have to compromise a school or close a school.”
Gousse said the way the school system is structured has advantages, but it also presents challenges and fosters inefficiencies in some areas.
“Take special education,” he said. “A child in a school needs a one-on-one ed tech, and then the child moves to another school or another district. What do we do with that ed tech? If another kid who needs a one-on-one ed tech comes into another school, I can’t shift that resource because of the way we’re set up.”
Similarly, if a custodian at a small school is out sick, that school can’t borrow a member of the custodial staff at a larger school for a day or two.
Community forums on long-range planning for the schools will be held at all eight elementary schools in the district over the next six weeks. The first one is scheduled for Wednesday, May 10, at 5:30 p.m. at Pemetic Elementary in Southwest Harbor. Anyone may attend any of the forums. Child care and refreshments will be provided.
“We want to hear from people about what they value most about the schools, what they want to see continue, how they think we can improve and what we don’t currently offer that they would like to see,” Gousse said. “Then, with that input, we can make informed recommendations about where we should go. I suspect I will have recommendations in terms of next steps in the early fall.”
At each of the forums, there will be a series of informational posters about the school system. And there will be roundtable discussions at which participants will be asked to suggest ways the schools can build on their strengths and address challenges going forward.
“This is a great opportunity to inform the public about what we do and allow them to give input,” Gousse said. “I think we’re going to learn a lot.”