Pownal parents to be polled for RSU 5 middle school preference

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FREEPORT — The Regional School Unit 5 board delayed a decision about the future of the middle school program in Pownal at its April 14 meeting.

Instead, the School Board decided to poll Pownal parents about their middle school preferences for next year. After the data is collected, the board is expected to make a decision on April 28.

Superintendent of Schools Shannon Welsh said parents of Pownal students currently in grades 5-7 will be contacted via e-mail, letter or telephone.

Parents will be asked where they would prefer their child to attend middle school next year based on current information. Depending on the response, the board will see if there is a need to retain Pownal Middle School.

The original proposal to close the school came from a group of parents who were concerned their children were not getting as diverse an experience as students in the other RSU 5 middle schools.

Heidi Cushman, mother of three students in the Pownal system, was one of them. At the April 14 meeting, she told the board her sons need more social and extra-curricular opportunities than the Pownal school can offer.

She was not alone. Other Pownal parents spoke in favor of allowing their children to take advantage of language programs, sports, clubs and co-curricular activities.

Tracy Borden of Pownal said she would like her twin boys to experience more diversity in the classroom and in sports than they receive in Pownal.

And, Pownal resident Cliff Ruprecht said it is critical for the Pownal students to have a choice in their level of education.

“It is important for these students to get the opportunities they deserve, but cannot get at Pownal,” he said. While students may excel in chess, drama, or foreign languages, they may never know if they are not given the chance to try, he said.

“For these students to have choice, is the right choice,” Ruprecht said.

Welsh said closing Pownal Middle School would save the district $195,000 by eliminating three teaching positions. Transportation to Freeport or Durham Middle Schools would cost $5,000, but would be provided to the Pownal students.

If the Pownal Middle School program remains open, two Freeport Middle School teachers would have to be eliminated to save $130,000, and the $5,000 transportation cost would be unnecessary. To find the additional $60,000 to retain the Pownal school, Welsh said there is a possible $20,000 in funds if the Freeport support staff agrees to a 1.5 percent salary increase instead of an expected 3 percent increase.

Another $20,000 could be found if hours for educational technicians – the last addition to the budget – are reduced.

Finally, additional funding could be found by raising tax revenue, Welch said.

While some residents spoke in favor of choice for their children and the opportunities available in Freeport and Durham, other parents said Pownal’s small-school atmosphere works well for their children. 

Ginifir Giddinge of Pownal said the size of the school appeals to her. She said she knows all the teachers, her children’s classmates and their parents. She said all students can play sports without tryouts and her children thrive at the school. She moved back to Pownal to raise her children and put them through the school system, Giddinge said. 

Pownal resident Jonathan Morris said members of the Pownal community are willing to volunteer their time and expertise to students in economics, physics, astronomy, environmental science, local food production, civics and law, robotics, drama, outdoor recreation, community service and service learning.

Morse Street computer coordinator Liza Moore said she was inspired by the discussion and  energized by the possibilities that could be offered at the Pownal Middle School for students throughout the district.

“We would be crazy to give up what we’ve got right now,” she said.

The board will collect the data provided by Pownal families until Monday, April 26, and will consider a vote on Wednesday, April 28.

It will consider a vote to either retain the Pownal Middle School, eliminate the program and allow Pownal students in grades 6-8 the choice of attending Freeport or Durham middle schools with transportation provided, or allow Pownal students in grades 6-8 the choice of attending school at Pownal, Freeport or Durham.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or [email protected]