KENNEBUNK — Public discussion centered around elementary level enrollment at Monday's RSU 21 board meeting, after the board voted last month to eliminate pursuing the only model proposed by the enrollment task force that would keep K-5 students at Kennebunkport Consolidated School and Mildred L. Day School in Arundel.
In response to sharply declining enrollment at Kennebunkport Consolidated School, a task force made up of district officials, teachers and community members was assembled last fall to look at solutions to the problem. The task force came up with three final options which were vetted by the board at the June 17 meeting. Option one would retain the current K-5 structures at KCS and Mildred L. Day school in Arundel and adjust catchment lines to capture new incoming Kennebunk and Arundel students to supplement KCS enrollment, while grandfathering existing families.
Option two would turn MLD into a pre-kindergarten through second grade school for Arundel and Kennebunkport students, and turn KCS into a grades 3-5 school for Arundel and Kennebunkport students.
Option three would create three pre-K schools, Kennebunk Elementary School, KCS and MLD, and would place all district fourth- and fifth-graders at Sea Road School, while moving some students from Kennebunk to KCS to supplement enrollment.
Option one was eliminated in a vote by the board at its June 17 meeting, prompting parents and community members in both Kennebunkport and Arundel to e-mail board members and take to social media to voice their frustration with the decision, and express support for the K-5 structure at the two elementary schools.
Henry Ingwersen, an Arundel resident and state representative for House District 10, said he sat in on a recent meeting of the Arundel Board of Selectmen where townspeople and the board expressed the importance of maintaining K-5 at the town's only school.
“Mildred Day School is the center of our community in Arundel and if at all possible, should remain intact as a K-5 school. I would urge that the board vote to reconsider. This issue is tearing a lot of people apart in our community,” Ingwersen said.
Kennebunkport resident Gaby Grekin served on the enrollment task force and has been a vocal supporter of maintaining the K-5 model at the two schools. She said she feels equity and standardization have been used synonymously in enrollment discussions, and that’s a mistake.
“When the board was discussing equity last year, it was used synonymously with standardization in a way that concerns me,” she said. “Our schools have distinct cultures that we like. They are an asset and a strength to the district as a whole. I see that diversity as an asset and a strength to the district and I don’t want that to be lost in the name of equity. It means equity of opportunity. It doesn’t mean standardization and homogenization of our schools.”
Grekin feels the board understands the urgency around solving the decline in enrollment in Kennebunkport, but there’s still time to put a thoughtful plan together.
“As a Kennebunkport parent, I can say that the multi-aged program that is in place has bought us some time. We have a good strong interim plan in place.”
Grekin echoed sentiments from other board members that the grandfathering clause in option one seemed to be the biggest problem. She felt that could be addressed with a well laid out timeline for families so they could plan ahead.
“If you put back Option 1, that would get all of us off high alert. And consider any other viable options that emerge, and that would give us all peace of mind too,” Grekin said. “This district is still a fragile coalition that has formed. This district and this coalition is worth saving and I think we all recognize that the work ahead is going to be difficult, and will test some of those tender spots. I want to remind the board that the history of the past decade is still with us. We can value the history that each of our three towns has, while valuing how strong we are together as a district,” Grekin said.
Arundel resident Melissa Whall asked the board to vote to put every option back on the table, but that motion was ultimately tabled and moved to a meeting next Monday, July 16.
The board will meet in executive session next Monday, July 16 at 6 p.m., followed by a business meeting in the KES board room, which will be open to the public. During the public meeting the board will hear an update from the human resources committee on the interim superintendent search, and will form an enrollment sub-committee, according to Board Chair Mary Beth Luce. Luce said this meeting will not be a forum for public input, but the board will discuss bringing all possible enrollment plans back before the board and the public in future meetings for discussion and consideration.