By Alex Lear, Staff Reporter for the Community Leader
CUMBERLAND --A proposal to move fourth- and fifth-graders from the Chebeague Island School to the mainland has stirred significant opposition from islanders, particularly in the form of an approximately 100-signature petition sighed by island residents and sent to the Maine School Administrative District 51 (MSAD 51) Board of Directors this week.
Proponents say the move would improve both academic and budgetary efficiency, while many islanders, 70-80 of whom appeared at a meeting on the issue Feb. 20, argue that it would have a detrimental effect not only on the 9- and 10-year-old children and their school, but on the island itself.
The board will begin its discussion o this and other budgetary matters at its meeting on March 7, during which MSAD 51 Superintendent Bob Hasson will roll out his proposed 2005-06 budget to the board.
Board Chair Polly Frawley said the proposal, being reviewed by Hasson as one means of holding the budget to a 3.5 percent or less increase on operating expenses, has a twofold purpose.
On one hand it would reduce the Chebeague school's approximately 24-student population by 12 students, eliminating the need to use two classrooms, where K-2 and 3-5 are currently placed, Hasson said. K-3 would remain in one classroom, while a $48,878 teaching position would be removed, offsetting any increases in operating expenses, the superintendent added.
However, Frawley said, "it's not just a budgetary matter," mentioning that the move would be geared toward improving student achievement as well.
"The purpose of this is to have an appropriate transition," Hasson said, remarking that allowing Chebeague children to start fourth grade in the 400-student North Yarmouth Memorial School (NYMS) would provide an easier move than remaining on the island and beginning sixth grade at Greely Middle School, with a student population of about 600. "It's also exposing children to more opportunities on the mainland," Frawley added, referring to an increased variety of reading and mathematical resources.
"We want to make sure we're looking at both aspects of that equation," she said.
Frawley said the board is also looking into moving the mainland their grade into the Drowne Road School, instead of splitting it between the Mabel I. Wilson School and NYMS, as is currently the case, while the fifth grade currently at Drowne would be moved back to NYMS.
Chebeague resident Beverly Johnson said about 99 percent of islanders oppose reconfiguration of their school, saying that "It would be detrimental to life of the island."
"We try to encourage young people to live here and raise families here," she explained, expressing concern that if those parents have to send their eight- and nine-year-olds to the mainland, they may be discouraged from living there.
Such is the case with Rick and Paige Boisvert. Parents of four young children, they are planning to move the mainland during the school season, keeping their island home for the summer.
Paige Boisvert said that while there were other issues as well, hearing the school proposal made their decision.
Having grown up on the island herself, she said the size and safety of the school appealed to her.
Boisvert's nine-year-old son Evan, who'll be going into fourth grade in the fall, would be among those students impacted if the proposal were passed.
"I just couldn't even imagine if he got sick, or if he wanted to do sports," she said. "The whole idea of the boat, I think that's just too much responsibility for him... There's not enough supervision.
Even if the proposal is voted down, Boisvert said, her family will still move. With the Chebeague school's fate having been uncertain other times in the past, Bosivert said "We want to be somewhere that's a little more secure."
In a Feb. 24 letter to the board that accompanied the petition, the signers requested an opportunity to meet with the board and administration outside of the budget process in order to discuss the issue. Hasson said that since the proposal is so preliminary, no meeting has yet been scheduled.