Calais and Baileyville Councils Discuss School Regionalization

Discussing the benefits and challenges of consolidating the school systems of Calais, Baileyville, and potentially Eastport are the municipal councils of Calais and Baileyville. Most of those present expressed that consolidation of some kind is inevitable due to low student population and limited resources. (Photo by Lura Jackson)

By Lura Jackson

 

Using the word “consolidation” in reference to the schools of Eastern Washington County is a surefire way to start a lively conversation between those in favor and those against. Facing a dwindling student population and limited resources, the municipal councils of Calais and Baileyville have opened the door to a discussion that many expect will ultimately lead to the regionalization of school facilities. 

While consolidation has been discussed unsuccessfully in the past, the councils – which met on September 20th in Calais – widely agree that the time is ripe to discuss the issue. “It would benefit students by far if there was some type of consolidation,” expressed Calais City Councilor Artie Mingo. Regardless of what form it takes, one of the main goals of consolidating would be to offer more classes to students. 

“We used to offer Spanish, German, French, and Latin in Calais,” said Calais City Councilor Marcia Rogers. “Now we only offer one foreign language. Hopefully we can share our resources to make things better for the kids.” 

Though the end-goal of regionalization may be to create a single, unified school structure in an as-yet undetermined location, those present at the meeting emphasized the importance of fostering relationships to share resources between the schools sooner rather than later. “If we’re going to work together, it should be on things that parents and community members can actually see,” said Amanda Belanger, Principal of Woodland Elementary School. By visibly demonstrating cooperation between the two school systems, public support would gradually grow.

“It’s going to be a tough sell to our communities, but we’ve got to do it,” said Baileyville Town Councilor Tim Call. “We’re not saying we’re going to consolidate basketball teams.” When his comment was met with laughter, Call expounded on his point. “If you could say we’re going to consolidate schools but still have two basketball teams – the Woodland Dragons and the Calais Blue Devils – you’d stand a chance.” 

Those present acknowledged the supportive fervor that surrounds the local sports teams, but several expressed that modern youth have more mobility between the towns and they are already accustomed to playing with each other due to traveling baseball camps, football, Little League, and other examples. “Our two communities are already playing together,” said Councilor Mingo. “They’re friends.”

The consolidation discussion was initially prompted by Baileyville’s review of its school buildings under AOS guidelines. The buildings have been determined to be in need of rehabilitation and a town vote was put forward to consolidate the Baileyville schools into the high school building. Voters turned down the $10 million project. “It wasn’t the $10 million building that was voted down,” Councilor Call said. “It was the tax increase… I think we need to spend the money on education, but we need to spend it wisely.”

With Baileyville now being part of AOS 90, the councilors recognized that Baileyville would most likely have to leave the AOS to participate in a larger-scale consolidation. Asked if he felt that Baileyville was ready to the leave the AOS, Call responded that it would be a close vote. “But there’s no reason we can’t start sharing resources now.”

As a simple example of how the schools could work together now, Call said that shop class is no longer offered at Baileyville High School despite multiple students expressing interest in it. While Baileyville students can opt to participate in the Building Construction program at St. Croix Regional Technical Center in Calais, if those classes or the associated travel conflict with a required class in Baileyville – such as English – the student isn’t able to take the building trades class. However, by building the relationship between the two schools, that student could instead take an English class while they are in Calais to meet their requirements.

The councilors discussed the sharing of additional resources as well, including having a single superintendent cover both schools and sharing bussing costs, although some proposals will require further consideration of the existing AOS element. 

Calais Superintendent Ron Jenkins is in the process of organizing a regionalization workshop meeting between the school committees and councils of both Calais and Baileyville, and the appropriate bodies in Eastport will be invited as well. The workshop is planned to take place in mid-October.