News Feature

Deer Isle
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, December 20, 2018
Future of schools vote set for January 29
Public meetings next month

by Tevlin Schuetz

The recently-completed Future of Our Schools Committee report was unveiled at a CSD Board meeting on December 12, and the community advisory vote—originally planned to coincide with March town elections on the Island—has been rescheduled for January 29.

Polls will be open all day for voting, and Island residents can plan ahead if they are concerned about the potential for inclement weather.

“It is really critical that … people know they can get absentee ballots,” FOOS Committee Chairman and CSD Board Chairman Jane Osborne said.

While the FOOS Committee report includes assessments of four options investigated by the committee, only three options will be on the ballot put before voters: 1. Keeping both buildings functioning as they are now and performing necessary maintenance work on both; 2. Moving high school academic programming to the elementary school building while retaining the gym and shop wings for continued use at the high school building; and 3. Closing the high school and sending students off the Island.

The option of closing the high school entirely and moving all students to the elementary school building was taken off the table due to the high estimated cost of the addition and renovation work the elementary school building would require. That action could cost upwards of $8 to $10 million, Union 76 Superintendent Chris Elkington noted. If the district sought a bond to cover construction, it could add an estimated $685,405 annually to the school budget if it is a 15-year note with a 3 percent interest rate, as stated in the report. A 30-year term bond would come at a cost of $418,444 annually.

Budget Costs

Identified as “Option A” in the report, the scenario by which the district would essentially stay on its present course of maintaining two separate schools is estimated to total $6,885,850. State reimbursement under this scenario is estimated at $658,300, so the total amount the towns would pay would be $6,227,550. Deer Isle’s share (at 70 percent) would be $4,359,285, and Stonington would pick up the remainder of $1,868,265.

Option C, the consolidation of grades into the elementary school building, where the shop and gym areas of the high school building would still be used, is estimated to require a budget of $6,611,826. With state reimbursement estimated at $658,300, $5,953,526 would need to be covered by taxes. Deer Isle would pay $4,167,468 and Stonington $1,786,057.

Option D, the scenario of closing the high school and sending its students off-Island, would have a budget of $6,403,537. State reimbursement is estimated to be higher for this option, potentially at $525,000. Deer Isle and Stonington would be left to cover $5,878,537, with Deer Isle responsible for $4,114,976 and Stonington $1,763,561.

Elkington noted that Option C would take time to plan if chosen by residents of the towns. The administration would spend the next school year working with consultants to figure out project costs and funding options to bring before the community, and the towns would need to vote to raise funds for work on the elementary school building, he said.

Community impact

The report identifies “strong public sentiment” for keeping the high school open. It states that “[it] is well documented that the loss of a high school negatively impacts the communities it serves,” citing the importance of volunteering and community participation opportunities high school activities provide.

Economically, keeping the high school will keep families on the Island rather than moving closer to the high school their children would attend in another town, the report states, and those families would not have to face increased transportation costs associated with supporting their children’s activities at schools farther away. The report also states that families with children would be less likely to move to Deer Isle or Stonington if there is no Island high school.

Closing the high school and sending students off-Island would likely have some advantages for students, however, as a larger school can offer more choices of elective courses, increased opportunities to enroll in honors and advanced placement classes (which benefit students’ transcripts for colleges) and more extracurricular activities, the report states.

Next steps

The FOOS Committee will hold three public meetings to address questions pertaining to the report on these dates: Monday, January 14, at 6 p.m., Wednesday, January 16, at 6 p.m. and Saturday, January 26, at 9 a.m. All meetings will be at the high school.

Voting will take place at both town halls on January 29, where polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Applications for absentee ballots can be found at both town offices.