RICHMOND — Residents’ frustration with local education is boiling over amid discussion of a proposal to have Richmond voters consider withdrawing the town’s schools from Regional School Unit 2.

“I got on the school board because I wasn’t satisfied,” Russell Hughes said.  “I put four kids through the Richmond Public Schools, and I wasn’t satisfied with the education.”

Hughes, now vice chairman of the RSU 2 board of directors, was one of about a half-dozen people to attend the public hearing at Monday’s Board of Selectmen meeting to talk about the withdrawal question that will appear on the March 3 ballot.

Fans enter Richmond High School on Wednesday night for a basketball game.

“Unfortunately, I am coming up on my fifth year on the board, and I have been a complete failure because I haven’t been able to be an agent of change to improve the quality of our schools,” Hughes said.

“I’m in favor of regaining local control, because I think that’s what we need to do. We shouldn’t be satisfied with the quality of our schools.”

The RSU 2 board has 12 members, three of whom are elected from Richmond. Hughes said even if all three Richmond members agreed on a course of action, it would not be enough to sway the board.

In November, a petition bearing 164 verified signatures of Richmond residents was submitted at the Town Office. It sought to put to residents the question of whether they would be willing to investigate removing town schools from the decade-old school district.

RSU 2 serves Richmond, Monmouth, Dresden, Farmingdale and Hallowell.

A no vote means remaining in the district. A yes vote means following a multistep process that started with submission of the petition and is now outlined on the Maine Department of Education’s website.

The process includes creating a four-member withdrawal committee, consisting of a member of the Richmond Board of Selectmen, a town resident, a member of the group that filed the petition and a member of the school board who represents Richmond.

The committee would be charged with crafting a withdrawal agreement, which would undergo review at the state level and require public hearings at several points in the process before a final vote by residents.

Hughes said the standardized test scores have not risen in Richmond and proficiency-based education has not lived up to expectations.

“Right now, Richmond High School ranks 146 out of 162 public high schools,” Hughes said. “Marcia Buker (Elementary School) is a tier-one school, meaning the state has to come in and help it to get better.”

Richmond High School students cheer their basketball team Wednesday during a home game. Town residents are considering the possibility of leaving Regional School Unit 2.

Richmond High School students cheer their basketball team at the school in Richmond on Wednesday. Residents of the community are considering leaving Regional School Unit 2. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

O’Neill LaPlante, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said the few people with whom he has spoken are concerned about two issues. One is local control, a big issue in Maine.

“The other thing is the perception — I don’t know if it’s correct or not because I haven’t checked the scores myself — but the perception that the scores in both the elementary and secondary schools really are not improving,” LaPlante said.

At the time the district was formed, he said, improving scores was touted as one of the benefits of joining other schools in a region

“The reason I know that is I was the chairman of the board at that time,” LaPlante said, “and I was one of the people who did say that. I will not deny that, and I still to this day believe it.”

The ranking Hughes cited was from Niche.com, a website that provides information about schools, communities and work places, and offers rankings based on surveys and data collected from many sources, including the U.S. Department of Education, the National Center for Education Statistics and surveys of parents and students.

The Niche grade for RSU 2 is a B. Richmond High School was a C. Monmouth Academy and Hall-Dale High School received Bs.

The Maine Board of Education does not rank schools in that way. Instead, under the Every Student Succeeds Act, it has created a dashboard that describes schools’ accomplishments in terms of five indicators: chronic abstenteeism, academic achievement English Language Arts, academic achievement mathematics, graduation rates (four years) and graduation rate (five/six years).

There are four levels on which those indicators are judged: emerging, developing, meeting and excelling.

Richmond High School students operate the snack table in the cafeteria during a basketball game Wednesday night. Town residents are considering the possibility of leaving Regional School Unit 2.

In language arts and mathematics, Richmond High School are at the developing level. The other three indicators are at the emerging level.

Selectman Andrew Alexander said residents should meet with teachers, particularly those who worked at the high school before RSU 2 was formed, to discuss their concerns.

The Saving Richmond Schools Facebook page lists a range of concerns, including  building maintenance, poor communication, high turnover of teachers, dissatisfaction with the standards-based grading system and lack of desired programs.

Apart from school performance and cost, Richmond residents are also concerned that voting, which was traditionally held at the high school, no longer happens there.

Recent votes have taken place either at the selectmen’s meeting room or the Public Works garage.

LaPlante said he has given much thought to the proposal.

“Certain marriages don’t want to seem to work,” he said. “They are well-intended and people are trying to do the best they can.  But there are times that for some reason it just doesn’t come together the way it should come together.

“We have to make choices sometimes. The choices aren’t always pretty. This is the beginning of people looking into whether that choice has to be made.”

Town Manager Adam Garland said absentee ballots are now available. Voting is scheduled for March 3 at the Public Works garage.

Garland said he plans to meet with RSU 2 officials next week to discuss whether voting can return to the high school for the June primary election.

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