HALLOWELL — The city will raise taxes to maintain elementary foreign language instruction and two full-time nurses at Hall-Dale schools.

City councilors voted Monday to send a donation to Regional School Unit 2 to reverse cuts that the district school board has approved.

The issue is not settled, however, because it relies on Farmingdale approving a donation for its share at town meeting.

The discussion at Hallowell’s City Council meeting also revealed councilors’ and residents’ dissatisfaction with the city’s place in RSU 2, which also includes Dresden, Monmouth and Richmond.

The RSU 2 board approved a budget last week that cuts foreign language at Hall-Dale Elementary School, eliminating two teaching positions, and reduces the Hall-Dale nursing staff from two full-time nurses to one full time and one half-time, serving the three schools.

Those cuts are projected to save the district $138,784.

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In RSUs, municipalities can fund services at their schools that the school district will not. Hallowell’s fellow RSU 2 member Dresden is doing that for nursing and librarian positions at Dresden Elementary School.

Based on property valuations, Hallowell would pay 54 percent of any additional payments to Hall-Dale schools, and Farmingdale would pay 46 percent.

Hallowell’s share for the foreign language and nurse would be $75,138.

RSU 2 Superintendent Virgel Hammonds said the district has applied for a $30,000 grant to help maintain Japanese language instruction, and a Hallowell resident has offered to donate $26,000. If both of those come through, Hallowell’s donation would drop to $44,819.

An overflow crowd of more than 30 residents attended Monday’s council meeting.

Parents and other city residents pleaded with councilors to maintain the half-time nursing position and elementary foreign language. One group submitted a letter to council with signatures from more than 50 residents.

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Stacey Mondschein Katz said her younger children frequently come home singing Japanese songs. Her oldest daughter visited Japan as an ambassador to Hall-Dale’s sister school and now recruits international students for American University, where she encounters many multilingual students.

“Our children will be in competition for jobs with students from around the world,” Katz said.

Sylvie Charron, French professor at the University of Maine at Farmington and a grandmother of Hall-Dale students, said Hall-Dale graduates who received early foreign language instruction have an advantage that is still visible at the university level.

“They’ve done really well,” Charron said. “They often will major or minor in the language and are ready to go abroad. They have a totally different view of the world from having learned language at an early age. What you may look at as a savings is actually a cost. If you stop teaching language, as someone said earlier, it’s irretrievable because your brain gets set at a certain age.”

Residents also spoke in favor of keeping two full-time nurses.

Kirk Holbrook said there are children at both schools with chronic health problems, and there are also emergencies, such as his son fainting at school one day.

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“His teacher was freaking out, and I don’t think the other staff at the school is prepared for the unexpected things like that,” Holbrook said.

Several residents said people move to Hallowell because of the quality of the schools, and they spoke of the need to operate the schools in accordance with the city’s values, not what other communities want.

Jill Randall said she felt powerless at the meeting where the RSU 2 board approved the budget last week.

“It seemed to me that the cuts were being made regardless of what any of us thought, and we no longer have control over our own schools,” Randall said. “We’ve seen Richmond and Monmouth express interest in leaving the RSU, and perhaps that’s something we should be looking at.”

Councilor Ed Cervone, who made the motion for Hallowell to make the extra payment, noted that the entire school district is paying for the overhaul of the ventilation system of Richmond High School and Middle School done last summer, which he supports although it does not benefit Hallowell taxpayers.

By contrast, Cervone said, the RSU 2 board rejected spending a small portion of the proposed $23.1 million budget on programs that he views as essential.

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“We need to have an RSU that’s willing to spend not only on their schools but on all schools because they’re collectively all our schools now,” Cervone said. “I’m really bothered that we got kicked this (expense). If this sets the precedent of ‘I don’t like your program, and therefore you pay for it,’ what’s next year and the following year?”

The council voted 6-1 to approve the donation. Councilor Lisa Harvey-McPherson voted against it, despite supporting the programs, because she wanted the decision to be made as part of creating the city budget.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]


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