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SAD 75 officials outline reorganization strategy

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SAD 75 officials outline reorganization strategy

TOPSHAM — Student enrollment in School Administrative District 75 dropped from 3,440 in 2000 to 2,842 last year, and the downward trend is expected to continue with closure of Brunswick Naval Air Station in 2011.

In preparing for this scenario, along with decreasing resources in a dismal economy, district administrators have proposed a few restructuring strategies that could take effect in the coming years. At the Williams-Cone and Woodside schools Tuesday evening, Superintendent Mike Wilhelm and Assistant Superintendent Sally Loughlin headed the latest in a series of meetings to discuss reorganization.

SAD 75's Comprehensive Strategic Planning Committee created a strategic planning framework – approved by the SAD 75 board March 12 – to allow the district to optimize its use of resources, enhance its ability to adapt to a changing context and to focus on plans that make sure its students have equity of access to essential programs and services.

The ultimate goal, Wilhelm said, is to build capacity in a time of scarcity.

One strategy, which could occur as early as the next school year, involves the consolidation of the West Harpswell and Harpswell Islands schools. A restructuring and reconfiguration analysis for this change is expected to occur next year.

If Harpswell's students are consolidated into one school, the other school would revert back to the town, Wilhelm said.

"The largest school is the Harpswell Islands School, so we'd probably consolidate that way," he explained.

Another strategy is reorganization of Topsham, Bowdoin and Bowdoinham elementary schools into kindergarten through second grade and grade 3 to grade 5 facilities. In Topsham, that means Williams-Cone would see one set of students and Woodside the other, although Wilhelm said which school might house which set of students has yet to be determined. Both schools currently house K-5 students.

"We're not even going to begin studying this until the fall," Wilhelm said.

A third strategy involves the restructuring of schedules at Mt. Ararat high and middle schools.

Major budget cuts the district had to make for fiscal 2009 – particularly in light of a $1 million drop in state and federal funding and $1.2 million in inflationary costs – led to cuts of more than 15 full time positions, as well as reductions in areas such as health, music and foreign language. The outlook for fiscal 2010 isn't any better.

As SAD 75's student population drops, so does its state subsidy. The same occurs as the district's property valuation increases, and up until the blow the real estate market took last year, valuations had risen in all four district towns, Wilhelm said.

"When our subsidy drops, we have to ask more of the local towns, in their taxes ... if we are going to make up any kind of difference for that," he said.

Reorganization would also be intended to give all of SAD 75's students equal access to educational resources.

"If you have a situation where a kid is in a place where the resources aren't there, or the expertise isn't there, you find a way to get it to that kid so that they can learn, and they're not held back," Wilhelm said.

Woodside is a large building with a large capacity and large number of professionals, the superintendent said. The West Harpswell School, on the other hand, is one of the district's smallest, housing 74 students and 4 and 1/2 teachers who teach combined grades.

"They have a librarian one day a week," Wilhelm said. "They have a library aide there a half a day a week. They have literacy support that is less than all day. All of those resources that you have every day at the Woodside School are not happening every day at the West Harpswell School, but don't think those kids don't need those more than we have the ability to provide them."

Wilhelm said the district receives about $500,000 in Title 1 funds. This is money provided by the federal government to support students at risk of failing at schools with concentrations of poverty. Schools with a population percentages more than the district average for disadvantaged students have access to the funds, while those with a demographic less than that average do not receive the funds, Wilhelm said.

"We have schools in this district that do not have access to these dollars," he explained.

For instance, Williams-Cone did not receive Title 1 funds this year, while Woodside does. Reorganization would mean students of both would have access to those funds, Wilhelm said. "That disparity in economic disadvantage would flatten out."

In that vein, he added, "if you were to take the West Harpswell School and the Harpswell Islands School and you bring them together, they would both qualify for Title 1 funds."

A reconfiguration strategy and eventual action plan would ultimately have to be approved by the SAD 75 board.

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