TRENTON — Thirty-two of the 40 teachers and staff members at Trenton Elementary School have signed a letter expressing strong opposition to a recommendation that the school withdraw from the Mount Desert Island Regional School System – AOS 91.
That recommendation was made recently by the School Evaluation Options Committee (SEOC), a group of citizens appointed by the Board of Selectmen in 2019 to explore ways to reduce school spending and, thus, ease the tax burden on Trenton property owners. The SEOC concluded that the cost of being part of the school system, including financial support for central office administrative functions, is greater than the benefits that Trenton receives from that affiliation.
SEOC Chair Susan Sargent summarized the group’s recommendation at the Dec. 29 meeting of the Board of Selectmen.
“Withdrawal from AOS 91 places control of our school budget, curriculum and all meaningful decisions back into the hands of our school board and our citizens,” she said.
But the school’s teachers and support staff said in a Jan. 11 letter to the Trenton School Committee that the recommendation to leave the school system fails to recognize the many advantages of being part of the system. Among those, they said, are professional development opportunities, special education support services and grant funding.
“By sharing the costs of programs, curriculum and educational experiences such as the Floating Classroom for the middle school and MDI Biological Laboratory scientific research for fourth graders, Trenton students have similar experiences as other students who [go on to] attend MDI High School,” the letter states.
“In this way, Trenton students begin high school on equal footing as other AOS 91 students.
“As a result of being part of the AOS…we are able to provide experiences for our students that we would not be able to participate in were we on our own.
“Additionally, teachers in this district are able to reach out to families and offer resources at the first sign of academic or social struggle. To some of these resources, other districts simply do not have access.”
The Trenton teachers and staff members also said in their letter that several of the school’s teachers have previously worked in nearby communities that are not part of the AOS.
“There is a stark contrast between our district’s offerings and those of other communities,” they wrote. “Many teachers are drawn to work in our district for that very reason.”
They said that if Trenton Elementary were to leave AOS 91, it is “probable” that some of the school’s teachers would seek employment in other AOS 91 schools.
Trenton Elementary Principal Mike Zboray said the fact that eight of the school’s 40 full- and part-time employees did not add their names to the letter does not necessarily mean they support the idea of withdrawing from the school system. He said some of them simply missed the deadline for signing on.
Zboray said the school committee is expected to discuss a formal response to the SEOC’s recommendation at its Feb. 9 meeting. School committee members have previously expressed support for remaining part of the AOS 91 school system.
Under the state law that created AOS 91, the Trenton school committee would have to initiate an uncoupling. Then the town’s voters would have to approve it.
Trenton voters decided in 2008 that their elementary school would join the schools of Union 98 in forming the new Mount Desert Island Regional School System – AOS 91. The other schools in the system are in Bar Harbor, Mount Desert, Southwest Harbor, Tremont, Cranberry Isles, Frenchboro and Swan’s Island.