Harpswell ed panel's mission excludes 2 big issues

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HARPSWELL — Selectmen have activated the Education Committee with a few changes to its mission statement – notably, removing discussion of the future of West Harpswell School and any efforts to leave School Administrative District 75. 

Selectman Chairman Jim Henderson said the committee has been delayed by a lack of volunteers, but said Susan Rich recently agreed to serve as chairwoman.

Selectman Elinor Multer suggested the change in mission statement and said she would not otherwise support the committee. She said issues around West Harpswell School closing or remaining open and consideration of withdrawal from SAD 75 are legal issues the committee should not touch.

Henderson said the basic function of the committee is to provide general information without taking a stance on issues, but Multer argued that strong opinions surrounding education of Harpswell students are “controversial by nature.” 

“I guess we don’t want any information then,” Henderson said. “We need sensible, calm discussion.”

Multer said the West Harpswell School vote looms in February and people will become more passionate about their stance as the vote gets closer.

“Facts can be mustered on both sides of the issue,” she said.

The mission of the committee was amended to state it will not “consider issues of West Harpswell School nor the separation of Harpswell from SAD 75.” It will address issues such as establishing a central elementary school, providing community information and exploring scholarship options.

Besides Rich, selectmen also appointed Kara Douglas to the five-member committee. One other member from the Harpswell Islands School area will be appointed at a later date, along with representatives of the two parent teacher organizations.

Selectmen approved the amendments to the mission statement as well as the two appointments.

Following the votes, resident Robert McIntyre spoke regarding the education committee’s ability to address withdrawal from SAD 75.  He said previous efforts to explore withdrawing from the district were not transparent.

“It produced intense concern and protests from other towns,” McIntyre said.

If the committee is not allowed to explore options, another entity will be charged with it instead, which could lead to a more biased opinion, he said. There is a lot of information that will need to be provided before citizens can make an informed decision, he said.

“And who is going to do that?” McIntyre asked.

Multer assured McIntyre the Education Committee could be tasked with providing additional information should selectmen decide to do so in the future.

“I don’t think any of us here are reluctant to have information presented,” she said.

Stephanie Grinnell can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 124 or sgrinnell@theforecaster.net.