On Tuesday, February 28, residents of Rockland, Thomaston, South Thomaston, Owls Head and Cushing will vote on whether to approve a $23.2 million bond to renovate, reorganize and construct schools in Regional School Unit 13. The debt service on the bond proposal, which passed the 10-member school board unanimously, will be paid for through future savings from increased efficiencies and consolidations, according to school officials. At a public hearing on Feb. 16, RSU 13 board member Thomas Peaco of Rockland said the investment is necessary in order to avoid future costs of maintaining outdated and inefficient facilities 

“The bottom line for me is that one way or another we’re going to spend this $23.2 million,” said Peaco. “It’s not like if we don’t pass this bond issue we’re not going to spend it. We’re just going to spend it on our current schools.”

The bonds will be used to renovate Oceanside Middle School — grades 6 to 8 — in Thomaston, renovate and build a new addition for Oceanside High School — grades 9 through 12 — in Rockland, and construct a new pre-K to grade 5 school on the site of Owls Head Community School to accommodate students from Owls Head and South Thomaston. The project includes the demolition of the existing Owls Head School and the closure of Gilford Butler School in South Thomaston, the former Lura Libby School in Thomaston, and the McLain building in Rockland. 

RSU 13 Business Manager Peter Orne said that the plan will help to right-size the schools as student enrollment in the district has declined 15 percent over the past 10 years, excluding the withdrawal of St. George from the RSU.  

 


“We’ve lost 15 percent of our staff,” said Orne. “Now we’re going to lose that square footage.”

RSU 13 officials estimate that the reorganization plan will save the school nearly $2.2 million, which will be applied to debt service payments, due to energy efficiencies, closing buildings, future staff reductions and further efficiencies in transportation and food service. Orne said that in recent years RSU 13 has paid below 1 or 2 percent of the budget to debt service. The proposed bond would gradually take the district as high as 8.8 percent in fiscal year 2019 before gradually dropping to 6.9 percent in 2023. He added that the average for debt service in school districts is about 7 to 8 percent, and between 8 and 12 percent is considered the “sweet spot.”

“This allows us to get ahead of the game, be smart about it and to take those savings that we reap from those investments, apply them to the budget and keep it under control and not increase the taxpayer’s burden,” Orne continued. 

At the public hearing, longtime budget hawk Steve Carroll of Rockland said the proposal appears to be a “very good plan and it seems to make a lot of sense,” but expressed concern about future cost overruns. Orne said that contingencies are built into the budget in case of unexpected costs.

John McDonald, RSU 13 Superintendent of Schools, said he will remain committed to the project and in improving the curriculum of the school.

“I’m not planning on going anywhere,” said McDonald. “So I’m going to be here and you can hold me accountable for all these things…. I like it here and I know this area has had a revolving door of administrators for whatever reason. Well, I’m here to tell you, I’m not interested in that.”