READFIELD — A plan to restructure Regional School Unit 38’s elementary schools went down on Wednesday in the face of overwhelming public opposition.

School board members, in a 10-3 vote, rejected the plan that would have converted Readfield Elementary School to a grade three to five school and kept pre-kindergarden through second grade students at the elementary schools in Manchester, Mount Vernon and Wayne.

Board members who voted against the proposal, dubbed Scenario 5, said they were reacting to public outcry, which outweighed any educational and financial benefits.

Several members also questioned whether restructuring would improve education or save the district an anticipated $250,000 to $300,000 next year.

“The thing I kept coming back to is that I have never seen a consolidation that provided anywhere near the savings it was supposed to,” Mount Vernon representative Russ Evans said. “I have also never seen a reorganization or a restructuring that provided anywhere the benefits that it was supposed to.”

Some board members also said they were troubled by a memo from an attorney at Drummond Woodsum.

Superintendent Rich Abramson consulted attorney Dick Spencer about whether Scenario 5 would violate RSU 38’s consolidation agreement, which makes a reference to a kindergarden through fifth-grade school in each town.

Spencer said Scenario 5 could probably withstand a legal challenge, but to avoid uncertainty and a potentially costly challenge, the board should amend the consolidation plan to clarify its authority.

Mount Vernon representative Kerry Casey said the board has to abide by its moral commitment as well. “When our communities and our constituencies do not support this, I think that negates the legal authority,” she said.

In addition to two public forums, board members heard opposition to Scenario 5 through an online petition signed by more than 130 people and an anonymous survey of 124 teachers, 47.6 percent of whom said Scenario 5 would have a negative impact on education.

Readfield representative Steve Hayes and Wayne representatives Bill Shardlow and Lynette Johnson voted for the restructuring plan. They said something needs to be done to improve education and deal with falling enrollment and decreasing support from the state and federal governments.

Hayes said decisions need to be made based not on parent convenience but on what’s best for students and taxpayers.

Board members who voted against Scenario 5 also acknowledged the considerable difficulties facing the district.

“That still leaves us with $250-280K that’s going to come out of our budget, which means your budget,” Evans said. “We’re going to have to cut something.”

The board started a preliminary discussion about other places to save money and other ways to improve education, but it’s not clear what can be implemented in time for next year. Principals have to make their budget requests by Jan. 13.

Classes may need to be larger next year. Abramson said the district could eliminate five teachers and save $250,000 by increasing the cap on elementary school classes to 25 students.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]

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