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Originally published in Castine Patriot, June 12, 2014
Opening up Adams School
Board considers enrolling out-of-district students

by Anne Berleant

Allowing, or not allowing, students who live outside of a school district to enroll in school is increasingly a hot topic across the Peninsula.

“I’m interested in finding a way to work cooperatively with MMA faculty, students and staff to use Adams School as a venue for their children,” said Castine School Board Chairman Kathy MacArthur at a June 4 meeting. “I think there’s a need and an interest.”

Local schools have differing perspectives. Penobscot, which also would like to see enrollment increase, opened its pre-Kindergarten to out-of-district students, if space was available and at a cost. While it has received inquiries, no tuition students attend. Blue Hill Consolidated School has a policy of only admitting Blue Hill students, yet four non-residents currently attend after then-Commissioner of Education Steve Bowen overruled superintendent decisions denying their requests to enroll.

Adams School, in a policy last amended in 2005, allows out-of-district students to attend if they pay tuition, or are children of full-time town employees or part- or full-time school employees, and if space allows. They cannot incur additional costs and must be recommended by the superintendent and principal. Currently one out-of-district student, the son of Principal Katie Frothingham, is enrolled in the school.

This isn’t the first time the board considered allowing the children of MMA employees to attend, said member Joe Spinazola, who helped write the amended policy in 2005.

“The consensus at the time was why should taxpayers pay for out-of-town students to go. I stand firm on the policy.”

Further into the discussion, and after providing some background to the amended policy, he said he wasn’t against changing it, but also wasn’t “interested in going back down the road…It took the better part of a year to get that policy.”

In 2005, the school population stood at 65 students, was projected to decrease to 55 in the next couple of years and, eventually, to 34.

“That’s what sparked the controversy,” Spinazola said. However, the question of opening the enrollment caused “an uproar from the taxpayers.”

Just under 50 students from pre-K through eighth grade attended Adams School this year.

“As we all know, there’s an enrollment concern at Adams School,” Superintendent Mark Hurvitt said.

However, there has always been interest from out-of-district students in attending Adams School, whether from MMA families, whom Spinazola said viewed the possibility in 2005 as positive, or families in neighboring towns.

“I know there are interested people,” Frothingham said. Outside of the meeting, she said three calls had come recently from families living in Orland interested in sending their children to Adams School.

The school charges $7,400 for an out-of-district student, which is the average state tuition for elementary education.

“When push comes to shove, nobody wants to [pay] that,” Hurvitt said, although a few students have paid tuition to attend Adams School in recent years.

The high cost of housing in Castine was cited by Spinazola as stopping young families, including those employed at Maine Maritime Academy, from living in Castine and sending their children to Adams School.

“This is clearly an economic development issue,” said local citizen and education advocate Gil Tenney.

MacArthur asked for, and received, board permission to research ways to accommodate students of MMA families, suggesting that enrollment at Adams School could perhaps, in some way, be a taxable benefit of an MMA compensation package.

“We have the ability to repopulate the school if we can be creative,” she concluded.

In other business, the board approved 2-0-1 (Blackwood) adding a special town meeting article requesting permission to spend the $15,000 special education reserve account for a 2014-15 special education issue. The June 16 meeting was scheduled to request permission to transfer funds from one school budget line to another, as a way to balance the 2013-14 budget before the fiscal year ends on June 30.

Also, the opening of three bids for supplying fuel oil for the 2014-15 school year ended with a vote for Gary’s Fuel, of Penobscot, which submitted the low bid of $3.24 per gallon for a total of $12,960 for 4,000 gallons—“which is very efficient if you look at the other” union 93 schools, Hurvitt commented.

Finally, the board unanimously approved a $1,000 stipend each for Frothingham and teacher Heather Trainor for their work on the school yearbook.

Upcoming meetings

Special town meeting, Monday, June 16, 4 p.m., Emerson Hall

Castine School Board, Thursday, July 3, 4 p.m., Adams School.