Accelerated transition to Yarmouth schools in proposed Chebeague Island budget

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CHEBEAGUE ISLAND — An earlier transition of students to Yarmouth schools is proposed in the town’s fiscal 2012 budget, which goes to voters at Town Meeting on Saturday, June 4.

Next year’s proposed spending plan of $2.45 million is effectively flat, increasing by just $192. The school portion is nearly $886,000, down by more than $2,000 from this year.

Included in next year’s budget is money for the gradual transition of Chebeague students to Yarmouth schools.

Elementary school students now go to Chebeague Island School, and eventually attend Greely middle and high schools in Cumberland. The town’s 2007 secession agreement called for Chebeague to send its middle and high school students to School Administrative District 51 through 2014; the town paid about $1.8 million in tuition to SAD 51 up front, Chebeague School Superintendent Alton Hadley said.

If the proposed budget passes, Chebeague’s sixth-graders would be sent to Yarmouth in the 2011-2012 school year. Seventh-graders would make the transition in 2012-2013, followed by eighth-graders in 2013-2014.

All Chebeague students would be in Yarmouth by 2014-2015, except for a small number already at Greely High School, who can opt to remain there, according to Hadley. He said SAD 51 agreed to grandfather those students.

“We don’t want to say, at the end of 2013-2014, ‘everybody has to go to Yarmouth,’ because that isn’t fair to the kids,” Hadley said. “If we begin transitioning them, one, it gives the sixth-graders an opportunity to develop the friendships and social contacts with a new group of kids that they’ll be going to school with (in middle and high school).”

Second, he said, Chebeague students would have a head start on acclimating to the Yarmouth curriculum. The closer proximity is also a plus, he said: students now go from Chebeague to Yarmouth by water and then on to Cumberland; the new proposal would allow them to stay in Yarmouth.

“It will allow youngsters an opportunity to participate in more activities,” Hadley said. “Because they’re not going to be dependent upon whether there’s a late bus to get them there or not. … Often times, the kids spend the night on the mainland because they don’t have any transportation.”

Hadley said it is a big enough transition for Chebeague students to go from small class sizes on the island to much larger ones on the mainland. For instance, there would only be four sixth-graders to send to Yarmouth this fall.

Chebeague currently sends 22 students to SAD 51, Hadley said.

The Yarmouth Town Council voted May 19 to authorize the town’s School Board to negotiate with Chebeague, Town Manager Nat Tupper said Monday.

Yarmouth Superintendent of Schools Judy Paolucci said Monday that if she were Chebeague’s superintendent, she would support the early transition, too.

“You need to have a transition plan, and to all of a sudden transplant 20-something students from one district to another would really be unsettling,” she said. And with one grade coming in at a time, “that also is helpful on our end, because it’s not like we all of a sudden have 20-something new students; instead we deal with it one class at a time.”

She said Yarmouth has enough room for Chebeague’s students.

Hadley said Yarmouth has agreed to freeze the tuition rate at about $8,700 a year.

There is some opposition to the plan.

Chebeague Town Administrator Eric Dyer said last week that “we have a lot of people in the community who feel that because we’re already paying for something, why should we pay twice?”

Susan Burgess of Chebeague said she does not oppose the concept of her town’s students ultimately going to Yarmouth, but she questions the notion of having already paid SAD 51 for tuition through 2014, and now paying Yarmouth for the early transition.

“With some people, the issue is that the money could be better spent elsewhere on the island, because we do have a lot of expenses here,” she said. “We have a lot of debt, and we are trying to pay the debt off.”

Dyer said other residents feel that the students would benefit from not being transplanted from one school to another midway through high school.

Hadley said he expects that the early transition will not increase Chebeague taxes in the first or second years, barring any unexpected major expenses. He said the third year is difficult to project, and that there could be a slight tax increase.

Hadley also noted that Chebeague has money – which has not been spent in previous budgets and must be used for education – that will be used for the transition and offset any potential tax impact from the school budget.

Other warrant items

Chebeague is also considering elimination of winter police coverage.

“There have certainly been investigation into various issues, but I don’t think there’ve been one or two tickets issued,” Dyer said, adding that residents know when the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office deputy gets on the ferry.

“It’s great to have him out here,” Dyer said. “It does certainly contribute to the public’s access to law enforcement, and I think it makes people more trusting. … But as far as physical stopping of speeders, and ticketing for unregistered vehicles, that just hasn’t proven effective, because people know (when he is out there).”

The proposal is to discontinue winter service; the funding would still be maintained in case the town wants to put it toward law enforcement. Service during the summer, when Chebeague’s population increases, would continue.

Voters will also decide on the town’s first Comprehensive Plan.

Town officials are elected by written ballot at Town Meeting. The three-year terms of Selectman Donna Damon and School Board member Beverly Johnson are expiring and open to candidates from the floor.

Town Meeting will be held at the Chebeague Island Community Hall at 9 a.m. A budget validation referendum for the school spending plan will be held Tuesday, June 7.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.