The school board for Gardiner-based Regional School Unit 11 could make a decision at its Thursday meeting on whether to move some students to other elementary schools in the district or close the school in Randolph.
The Thursday meeting, however, will be the first time the board sees a financial comparison between its two redistricting proposals, and the board could decide to not make any changes to the district’s elementary schools, said the board chairwoman.
The school board is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Thursday at Gardiner Regional Middle School.
The meeting comes amid concerns from West Gardiner selectmen that the proposals are unnecessary and could raise costs for the district.
“I think they need to look closer at this and see if this really is what’s best, and they need to convince the taxpayer that this what’s best,” said the chairman of the West Gardiner Board of Selectmen, Gregory Couture.
However, the superintendent, who is planning to present a cost analysis of the proposals at the meeting, said she believes that crowding is an issue at Helen Thompson School in West Gardiner.
Superintendent Patricia Hopkins said the school has spaces that were originally designed to be closets where “we have instruction going on.” The school has also resorted to measures like putting up a temporary wall to split a classroom in two.
Concerns that Helen Thompson is crowded and that the Randolph-based T.C. Hamlin School has too few students led the board to consider ways to better use the district’s schools, said board Chairwoman Becky Fles.
Helen Thompson has a building capacity of 260 and has 285 students, according to the most recent enrollment figures from the district. However, Hopkins said the actual capacity for the programs offered is sometimes less than the building capacity.
T.C. Hamlin has 96 students with a building capacity of 155.
The board narrowed redistricting possibilities down to two proposals: One calls for the district to move some West Gardiner students at Helen Thompson to Gardiner’s two elementary schools, which are split by grade. Prekindergarten through second grade would go to Laura E. Richards School and third through fifth would go to River View Community School.
In the other scenario, the district would close T.C. Hamlin and send all Randolph elementary students to River View. Laura E. Richards and River View would become kindergarten through fifth grade schools, and the district would build one or two modular classrooms at Helen Thompson for additional space. If the board decides to close T.C. Hamlin, the town of Randolph would still need to hold a referendum to approve the decision, according Hopkins.
West Gardiner selectmen object to the proposal that would lead to students in their town being moved to other schools. West Gardiner students living on High Street and its side roads from the Gardiner border west to the Rabbit Ridge Acres subdivision would be the ones sent to Gardiner schools if the proposal passes.
The select board is paying for a letter to its residents to appear in the Kennebec Journal this week urging them to attend Thursday’s meeting. In the letter, the selectmen call for the board to consider removing students at Helen Thompson who don’t live in West Gardiner before forcing West Gardiner students into other schools.
Another West Gardiner selectman, Earle McCormick, said the board has questions about whether Helen Thompson is indeed overcrowded “We’d like to be convinced that there’s a need to do the redistricting at this time,” he said.
McCormick also said residents raised the issue that moving some West Gardiner students to Gardiner schools could cause problems for transporting students to daycare if the daycares are farther away in West Gardiner than the bus routes reach.
Hopkins, who has been out of the office for the last two weeks because of a family medical emergency, said she’ll be presenting, along with a cost analysis, how the proposals will affect different aspects of the district.
Her presentation will include the impact on facilities with more or fewer students, as well as the impact on transportation, programming and staffing, and facility costs. She’ll also present floor plans showing how the schools are used currently. She said Monday she hadn’t yet finished her analyses of the proposals.
The board needs to make a decision sooner rather than later if it wants to make changes for next school year, Hopkins said. The board sends budget information to voters in April, she said.
Fles said the board members could make a decision about the redistricting Thursday or they could decide they need more time. She said they need to know the financial impact of the different proposals to make a decision that’s in the best interest of both the students and district.
“I’m hoping that West Gardiner residents will feel reassured that we’re not just haphazardly moving people around because that’s not the case,” Fles said. “We’re trying to make the best decision we can for student as possible with the information we have available to us.”