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Harpswell school consolidation decision delayed

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Harpswell school consolidation decision delayed

HARPSWELL — A strategic planning team that is determining the pros and cons of consolidating Harpswell's two elementary schools decided Monday to postpone any consolidation for a year.

The School Administrative District 75 Board of Directors in March approved a planning framework proposed by the district's Comprehensive Strategic Planning Committee that is geared toward addressing declining enrollment and dissipating financial resources. One course of action proposed was to look into closing the West Harpswell School – one of SAD 75's smallest, with 74 students – and move those students to the larger Harpswell Islands School.

The consolidation, if approved by the SAD 75 board, was initially due to occur in time for the 2009-2010 school year, but Superintendent Mike Wilhelm indicated Monday that such a reconfiguration would have to wait another year.

"The work that we have to do, we will not be able to accomplish it by the end of this month. ... We will not have the work completed in time to have an impact on next year's budget," Wilhelm said, explaining that the West Harpswell School would therefore not close in September.

He said he hopes the committee will complete its work by summer.

Michael Estes and Jennifer Nucci, the respective principals of the West Harpswell School and the Harpswell Islands School, showed how programs at both schools would be effected by combining resources.

In guidance, for example, drawbacks to the current two-school scenario include disjointed communication with students, parents and staff due to limited time, and limited opportunities to follow up on issues students face and provide support for developed plans, they said. Benefits include daily communication and access to students, parents and staff, along with development of new groups based on the needs of students, such as those involving social skills, friendship and life transition.

A combined school would have a full-time principal, Nucci and Estes said, instead of two part-timers. The full-time principal could advocate collective problem solving and open communication with staff and the community, be available to meet with parents, students and community members to provide outreach activities for the community and resolve issues, they said, as well as monitor staff data to determine whether all groups of students are making satisfactory progress.

Following discussion between the principals and team members on the drawbacks of the two schools' existing resources and benefits of joint resources, several community members pointed out that they had not heard the other side of the story: the positives of maintaining two separate schools and the negatives of combining them.

"It felt like tonight's comments were very much related to how these changes will affect the providers of services here," said Elizabeth Davis, whose child attends first grade at West Harpswell. "What we haven't really heard about is how they will affect the consumers of these services. And I don't think that was your intention, but there's a whole piece of this that we haven't really looked at yet: what are the costs for the children?"

The strategic planning action team will meet again at the Harpswell Islands School at 6 p.m. Monday, April 13.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.