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SAD 51 seeks input from Cumberland, North Yarmouth at Nov. 18 budget forum

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SAD 51 seeks input from Cumberland, North Yarmouth at Nov. 18 budget forum

CUMBERLAND — School Administrative District 51 will hold a budget forum on Wednesday, Nov. 18, to hear public input as the district plans its fiscal 2011 budget.

The forum will begin at Greely High School at 7 p.m.

"What we're trying to do is get, from the community, the values that they hold for the school district," SAD 51 Superintendent Robert Hasson said last week. "Values of what they see as far as education goes, that would influence the budget. The (School) Board's interested in trying to get as many people as possible to this forum to learn about what they value."

Hasson said the district, like others across Maine, has received word of a financial curtailment from the state, which he estimates could mean an approximately $500,000 reduction in subsidy to SAD 51.

"We're facing reduced state revenue and increased tax assessments," said David Galin, the district's curriculum director, explaining that there has been a valuation shift between SAD 51's two communities of Cumberland and North Yarmouth, with North Yarmouth's valuation rising at a greater rate than Cumberland's.

"It went up so much because (North Yarmouth residents) were still feeling the effect of the boom in real estate, and Cumberland's had cooled off a little bit," Hasson said.

The state of the district, in the wake of challenges such as subsidy cuts and declining enrollment, and successes in the form of improved buildings and new broad-reaching academic programs, is laid out in SAD 51's annual report for 2009. The document is available at www.msad51.org in the "What's New" section, at both towns' town halls, and at the district's central office.

The report "captures who we are in a fairly concise way," Galin said.

Student enrollment was nearly 2,200 in September compared with almost 2,300 in May 2008 and slightly more than 2,200 a decade ago, according to the report. Cumberland's enrollment is almost 1,500 and North Yarmouth's is about 700, and the district has 21 students from Chebeague Island.

The 42-page document discusses several indicators, such as student learning, demographics, and the way different groups of stakeholders see the district's work. It reports a total budget for both fiscal 2009 and 2010 of $28 million.

The report speaks to Greely High School's implementation this year of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme. Galin said Greely is one of only two high schools in the state to offer the program. Approximately 20 Greely juniors are involved this year. All teachers who instruct at the IB level are required to undergo certified training.

The comprehensive and challenging program is designed to encompass a student's junior and senior years, incorporating an international education and leading to a qualification widely recognized by leading universities all over the world, according to the program's Web site, ibo.org.

The students take six courses through the program over two years, encompassing a broad-based liberal arts education in subjects such as primary and secondary languages, history, science, math and an elective, Galin said. They also write a 4,000-word essay following an independent research project, and undertake an interdisciplinary "Theory of Knowledge" course through which an appreciation of other cultures is encouraged. Students additionally participate in a "Creativity, Action, Service" program, through which they are encouraged to be involved in artistic pursuits, sports and community service and to promote an appreciation and awareness of life outside the realm of academia.

"It is probably the best preparation for future academics and, ideally, to prepare students to become citizens of the world," Galin said. "That's our goal going in."

Students can also choose not to immerse themselves in the full program, but select courses from its offerings.

The report also details the district's assessment system for its various grade levels. Kindergarten includes pre-literacy and language skills screening, a writing prompt, an everyday math baseline, developmental reading assessment and development spelling inventory. Grade 11 has the Maine High School Assessment. 

"I think that letting the public know how we're doing is really important," Hasson said, "whether it's an area we need to improve on, or an area that we're doing particularly well."

Greely High School is also enjoying the benefits of renovation and expanded space. The nearly 100,000-square-foot building grew through a 30,000-square-foot addition, and the ‘50s wing attached to the 1860s Greely Institute building on the school property was torn down. The renovation and expansion of the high school, as well as renovation of the institute, cost approximately $20 million and took about 18 months, Hasson said. The two facilities are connected.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the improved facility will be held at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 12.

"We've come to an end of 16 years of either renovating or building," Hasson said, adding that the only school not to receive that treatment is North Yarmouth Memorial School, and that the district is looking into either renovating or replacing that building.

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