SAD 75 board to review impact of Harpswell school consolidation

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HARPSWELL — Before it approaches a decision on whether Harpswell’s two elementary schools should consolidate, the School Administrative District 75 Board of Directors will review a finding of fact produced by a committee looking into the proposal and hear input from a public hearing to be held Wednesday, June 10.

That hearing, to be hosted by the Harpswell Board of Selectmen, will begin at the Harpswell Islands School at 7 p.m. The SAD 75 board is scheduled to meet again on Thursday, June 11, at 6:30 p.m. in Room 201 of Mt. Ararat High School.

The Strategic Planning Action Team of SAD 75 completed its finding of fact Monday on the possibility of closing the West Harpswell School and moving its students to the larger Harpswell Islands School. The merger, as well as other reorganization strategies on the table, would provide all SAD 75 students equal access to educational resources, SAD 75 Superintendent Mike Wilhelm has said.

Opponents of consolidation, however, criticize the shifting of West Harpswell students out of their community and the increased time those children would spend on buses on the way to their new school.

The action team’s members on Monday offered their individual perspectives on an 11-point grid of criteria they explored during their work. Those criteria included population, cost, student travel time, impact to facilities, parking and playground space, the district mission, class sizes, the impact on resources for learning ad physical and emotional health, socialization, staff impact and the impact on the community.

While the team had originally intended to make a recommendation to the School Board on the feasibility and educational value of consolidation based on those 11 elements, its members instead sorted out their thoughts on what was fact related to each element, and what was conjecture.

“The committee was asked to share all of their findings, and the group itself heard everyone else’s findings,” Assistant Superintendent Sally Loughlin said, “and that was where the fact-finding ended.”

Wilhelm is compiling the perspectives into one document which, along with information gleaned from Wednesday’s hearing, will go before the School Board on Thursday.

“The board has not had an opportunity to work together on this issue,” Loughlin said. “And whether or not they are deliberating on Thursday night, or whether or not they feel they need more information … is really unknown.”

A letter signed by Topsham taxpayers and submitted to that town’s Board of Selectmen last week urged extension of the action team’s study until Aug. 1.

Consolidation would not occur until the 2010-11 school year at the earliest.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.