Thursday, October 23, 2014

Raymond Select Board takes public comments and concerns about withdrawing from RSU14 - By Michelle Libby

Tuesday night the Raymond Select Board held a public hearing about the proposal to look into withdrawing from RSU14. They will have a question on the ballot on November 4 asking, “Do you favor filing a petition for withdrawal with the board of directors of RSU14 and with the Commissioner of Education, authorizing the withdrawal committee to expend $25,000 and authorizing the Raymond Board of Selectmen to issue notes in the name of the Town of Raymond or otherwise pledge the credit of the Town of Raymond in an amount not to exceed $25,000 for this purpose?”
The money would come out of the selectmen contingency, said chair Michael Reynolds. “This hearing is step four of a 22 step process.” 

The vote would give the town the permission to create a committee of four which would look into the feasibility and pros and cons of withdrawing from the RSU. Voting yes does not mean that Raymond wants to leave, it means they want to explore what that would look like, said selectman Teresa Sadak, who took out the petition and turned it in with 352 signatures on it. 

In the audience was superintendent Sandy Prince and assistant superintendent Don Davis along with RSU14 board chair Marge Govoni and school board member Diana Froisland, co-chair and Raymond resident.

Former RSU14 board chair Catriona Sangster spoke. “This vote starts the investigation process. It can take up to two years. Consolidation has been challenging and has been disruptive,” she started. She was concerned if this was a two year process. “Our teachers are going to go bonkers. They’re just figuring out how to work with teacher teams districtwide. This would mean up to two years of insecurity. What about our children’s education?”

Sadak said the reason Raymond gave the State Board of Education was that Windham wanted to build a middle school without state funding. “It’s about a lot of things and various reasons,” Sadak said. 

Sue Accardi, Windham High School nurse said, “I’m very saddened over all of this. I remember when we didn’t know where to send our middle school kids. Our kids were sent out all over the place. I’m thinking of the benefits – food service, I’m thinking of the pictures of the kids in the cooking class, collaboration of health services and the work that has gone into the policies.”

A few of the speakers were concerned about the lack of representation they would have if they were not part of an RSU. They would have control over their own K – 8 system, but beyond that they would not. As it stands, Raymond has three seats on the RSU14 school board. 

“There was a lot of hurt over the redistricting. I hope this is not what it’s about,” said Accardi. 

Grace Levitt wanted to see the $25,000 ear marked for investigation to be used for more staff for the students. “You lose all local control after eighth grade. You’re not part of the school committee,” she said. 

Right now Raymond has school choice for high school and they are able to send their children to any number of high schools in the area, but the town must pay $7,900 for each of those students who do not choose to go to Windham High School. 

“Maybe we rushed into it a little bit, but I wanted this to be in a major election cycle,” Reynolds said. If they town says to start the process, the committee can return to the select board and the town at any point and say that they want to stop the process. 

In the end it will take a two-thirds vote of all voters in the town to pass the withdrawal. 

Windham resident Michelle Jordan spoke about the suggested middle school proposals. “I encourage you to talk to your neighbors, talk to your friends. Understand, contact a member of that committee. This will have a huge impact on your children.” She encouraged all parents and community members to get involved. 

Board co-chair Froisland added some dollar figures to the discussion. Looking at the six years prior to consolidation the tax increase was $1.6 million. After consolidation it was $450,000. If Raymond were to withdraw, it would have to put back additional staff and that could be over half a million dollars, she said. With 172 high school students at $7,900 for tuition waivers the cost would be $1.3 million just for tuition. 

“I’m depressed that this has gone through so quickly,” Froisland said. 

“If they don’t want it, then vote no,” Sadak said. 

There is information about the cost sharing formula, the middle school advisory committee and all RSU14 board meetings on the RSU14 website and all school board meeting are open to the public.
“The students are more important than money,” said Marleen Turner, who was one who signed the petition. 

“A lot of miss information got out there. I hope people will consider what they heard,” Sangster said.

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