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RSU 5 sets phase-out of Pownal Middle School; students to choose either Freeport or Durham

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RSU 5 sets phase-out of Pownal Middle School; students to choose either Freeport or Durham

FREEPORT — Starting next school year, two-thirds of Pownal's 36 middle school students will have to attend schools in Freeport or Durham.

By 2011-2012, the entire Pownal middle school program will be phased out.

The Regional School Unit 5 special education program may be housed in the vacant Pownal classrooms.

The RSU 5 Board of Directors voted Wednesday, April 28 to allow school choice for Pownal sixth-graders next year, while students in seventh and eighth grades must choose either Durham or Freeport middle schools.

The board also decided to eliminate the Pownal Middle School program by the 2011-2012 school year. At that time, sixth- through eighth- grade students will attend either Freeport or Durham middle schools, with transportation provided up to $5,000.

The board voted 7-4, with Pownal representatives Eric Dube and Johnathan Dawson, Freeport representative Kristen Dorsey and Durham representative Cori Holt against the proposal.

The board had to consider three options: retaining the Pownal middle school program, eliminating the program and offering choice to Freeport or Durham with transportation provided, or allowing Pownal students choice to attend school at either Pownal, Freeport or Durham.

Two other votes failed before the current option passed.

Vice Chairman Dube said he was uncomfortable making the decision to phase out the Pownal Middle School program when residents of Durham and Freeport have not been asked where they would prefer their students to attend middle school. He said Durham or Freeport residents have not been made aware of an option to send their children to the Pownal school.

"I haven't seen any Durham or Freeport people here, because it doesn't affect Durham or Freeport as much as it affects Pownal," he said. "This is a huge thing, but this decision really affects Pownal and the vitality of the school."

But Freeport representative John Morang said he sees this proposal as an increased opportunity for all students. He said the move to the other schools will offer more social and educational opportunities, and still preserves some choice.

"I also see it as opening up a much-needed space for our special education program," he said. "It satisfies a lot of needs we have on the plate right now."

A survey sent to Pownal parents a few weeks ago revealed preferences for each student in the middle school program. Of 11 families in sixth grade, nine choose to remain in Pownal and two said they would like to attend Freeport schools.

In the seventh grade, one student would prefer to attend the Durham middle school, seven would prefer Freeport schools, and five would like to remain in Pownal.

For the eighth-grade class, seven students would prefer to attend Freeport schools, and five would prefer to remain in Pownal.

Superintendent of Schools Shannon Welsh said another letter will be sent to Pownal parents with children in sixth grade next year, asking them to commit to a school for next year so that staffing for all middle schools can be determined. In addition, parents of seventh- and eighth-graders must choose between Freeport or Durham schools.

A series of transition activities will be organized for the Pownal students attending other schools to help acclimate them to their new surroundings, the schools and the teachers.

Financially, Welsh said the change will have no effect on the proposed budget, which is currently $23.6 million.

The board will continue to discuss the budget at a a meeting Wednesday, May 6, at 6:30 p.m. in the Freeport High School cafeteria.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net