The parents of Maine School District RSU 16 (Poland, Mechanic Falls & Minot), have recently become aware of an administrative plan to eliminate the district’s three community based, preK-6th grade elementary schools in order to reconfigure the grade-span of each building to only include 2 – 3 grades each.
The move will require that children make 3 school building transitions across three different towns before entering the districts shared middle school. While it’s not unheard of for districts to consider these sorts of reconfiguration plans, there is concern that the plan being presented to the board this Monday at 6 pm was created with zero input from parents or teachers.
While nothing officially has been released to the public outlining the specifics, parents have been frantically reaching out to School Board Members as well as the Superintendent’s office for clarification. Several of those whom have had the chance to communicate with various board members have reported that, at least some of them, claimed to be unaware of any sort of reconfiguration plan, while others, including the superintendent suggested that reconfiguration discussions were preliminary.
A number of parents have started a petition to present to the board, however others have expressed concern that the time table to stop this is shorter than the time required to collect signatures and, if allowed to move forward at Monday’s Board Meeting, the community will have very few options to stop reconfiguration from moving forward.
In an effort to better understand what, exactly lead to the scenario that the RSU 16 community suddenly finds itself in,a number of publicly available documents have been reviewed, interviews have been conducted and policy research collected. While TMP’s research of the RSU 16 School Board and its attempt at reconfiguration is on going, a decision has been made to publish what has already reviewed. Documents will be organized chronologically when possible, relevant sections will be highlighted and this page will be regularly updated as more information is collected and reviewed.
RSU 16 Superintendent was found guilty of illegally denying special education students an education for weeks and in some cases months. Below is the Maine Department of Education’s final report on the matter. I’ve highlighted relevant information but check page 3 for the state’s final determination, which starts with the following statement:
“In September 2018, the District closed an in-District program for students with disabilities and told parents to keep their children at home for a period of time. This resulted in several weeks of no educational programming for students with disabilities.”
Below are the school board minutes from Monday, January 14th of 2019. In it, RSU 16 Superintendent spoke about the state’s investigation regarding his decision to abruptly close the Future Leaders Program on September 26th, 2018. The following statement can also be found in the below document on the top of page 5.
“Essentially, the DOE’s investigator found that by abruptly closing the program, I unilaterally changed each student’s IEP. This action was found to be in non-compliance, and, thus, denied the students of FAPE (Free and Appropriate Public Education). Only the IEP team can make changes to the IEP. One additional step required by the DOE is that both the Superintendent and Special Education Director must receive training from an attorney or the DOE by March 15, 2019. It is scheduled to be conducted on March 7th (2019)”
It has been suggested through interviews that there is a connection between the financial consequences of closing that program and the current proposal to reconfigure the district’s elementary schools. Budgetary data is currently being collected and reviewed to further explore this possibility.
A review of all publicly available School Board meeting minutes between January 2019 and July 2019 revealed that the superintendent proposed reconfiguration to the School Board at the June 10th 2019 meeting. The following quote can be found on page 5 of the document below…
“I will be looking to reshuffle some special education assets to establish a leader for a comprehensive systemic behavioral program. This is in response to the special education budget request for a more complete behavioral program. This person will oversee our behavioral program and lead in the development of a system-wide behavioral program to be presented in the coming budget.
I will be bringing a plan to the Operations Committee to have experts come in and evaluate structural and energy improvements (RFP) that are needed in our school buildings, specifically our three elementary schools. Additionally, we will talk to the Operations Committee about a process in order to review the Strategic Plan this year. Specifically, to include the possibility of reconfiguring our elementary schools by grade level and see if there is any cost saving through economy of scales.”
The Strategic Plan that is being referred to can be viewed below. Several items have been highlighted, including Part E: Excellence in Governance. The process described below is quoted from page 13 of the current Strategic Plan which explains that the Educational Policy Committee, not the Operations Committee, has responsibility to monitor the districts strategic plan
“The Board will meet to evaluate and update the Strategic Plan Including:
- Ensure Board subcommittees align priorities with the plan
- Educational Policy Committee has responsibility to monitor the Strategic Plan
- Reports at each Board meeting will reference activities that support the strategic Plan goals
- Superintendent evaluation connected to the Strategic Plan
- Annual public and staff surveys to determine effectiveness of meeting goals”
Part E goes on to say “The RSU 16 School Board will dedicate a meeting to review progress on the strategic plan”
Below is a description of the Operations Committee as described on the RSU 16 website
On June 11, The Lewiston Sun Journal ran an article titled “New course, school building evaluations pitched to RSU 16 Board“. A quote found toward the bottom of the article reads…
“Regarding a facilities evaluator, Superintendent Ken Healey said he will begin discussion with a school board subcommittee on how to best utilize the three schools, both in terms of building needs and educational necessities. He said he would like RSU 16 to hire a specialist or an education evaluator to explore and fact-find whether a reconfiguration of the schools is necessary. Now, each school houses grades kindergarten to six. It was mentioned that the schools, which are in Mechanic Falls, Minot and Poland, may be divided by grades, such as one for kindergarten throught [sic] second, one for their [sic] and four, and one for fifth and sixth. Healey and board Chairwoman Mary Martin emphasized that this is being discussed and it would take over a year to develop an actual strategy.”
All Operational Subcommittee minutes between January 2019 and February 2020 were reviewed. It was discovered that “reconfiguration” was mentioned zero times during this period and there was zero mention of the strategic plan over this same period of time. It should also be noted that multiple Operational Subcommittee meeting minutes appear to be publicly unavailable. Specifically, minutes for February 2019, April 2019, & June 2019 are all currently unavailable on the Subcommittee’s archive page. An archived copy of that page is available below.
All Educational Policy (Ed Policy) subcommittee minutes between January 2019 and February 2020 were reviewed. It was discovered that “reconfiguration” was mentioned zero times during this period. However, there were two meetings where the Strategic Plan was discussed. The first occasion during the October 28th, 2019 meeting where the minutes recorded state….
“Follow-up on board workshop regarding goals. Mary will bring a draft to work from. Mary presented draft goals based upon ideas from the board workshop. Discussion on the process for updating the Strategic Plan with an outside agency. Joe will bring ideas for a process at the November 25th subcommittee meeting.”
As scheduled, the Strategic Plan was discussed further during the November 25th, 2019 Ed Policy Subcommittee meeting.
“Item 2: Discuss our strategic plan and the process to update it. Joe will look into getting outside help. Print poster size for each school. Put back on agenda for January. Good group decisions!”
Prior to the scheduled January 27th, 2020 Ed Policy Subcommittee meeting, the school board had their monthly meeting on January 13th, 2020. During that meeting, RSU 16 Superintendent defined seven goals he had set for 2019-2020. One of those seven goals, found on page 3 in the document below document states…
• Develop a communications plan to educate students, staff, administration, and the community on potential
elementary school facility, staff, and reconfiguration improvements.
The Ed Policy Subcommittee meeting scheduled for January 27th 2020, during which Strategic Plan discussions were scheduled, was rescheduled for the subcommittee’s following February 24th, 2020 meeting because less than half of its members were present. From the minutes recorded…..
“Item 2: Discuss our strategic plan and the process to update it.
No quorum was present. This item will be put on February’s agenda.”
As of 3/7/2020 the minutes for the February 24th meeting of the Ed Policy subcommittee are publicly unavailable. The most recent subcommittee minutes can be found here. Below is an archived copy of that page captured on 3/7/2020.
Additionally, the minutes for the School Board’s February 10th, 2020 meeting are also not publicly available for review. Recent Board meeting minutes can be found here. Below is an archived copy created on 3/7/2020.
The agenda for the March 9th School Board meeting was recently released and can be found here as well as below. While 10 min. have been set aside for public participation during Monday afternoon’s meeting, the agenda itself includes no mention of reconfiguration or the ongoing strategic plan discussions.
It’s unclear, at this point, what will come of the March 9th board meeting. The meeting is open to the public and several parents are expected to attend. A few parents, if permitted, are hoping to address their concerns over reconfiguration to the board directly.
Check back for regular updates as this story develops and as more documents become available.