DEER ISLE — The people have voted — at least 971 of them — to keep educating high school students on the island and in the existing building.
“It’s pretty overwhelming support for the school and the community,” said Community School District 13 School Board Chairman Jane Osborne. “It was quite a turnout.”
Higher than average per-pupil high school education costs — $24,000 per high school student in 2016 according to the Maine Department of Education — prompted the district to explore options for secondary education.
That exploration included Tuesday’s non-binding referendum to find out what residents wanted for their high school children.
The vote to keep the high school open was overwhelmingly in the majority.
More than a third — 330 — of the 905 registered voters in Stonington cast ballots in favor of keeping the high school open.
The story was the same in Deer Isle. Slightly more than 37 percent of the town’s 1,701 registered voters, 641, voted to keep the school open.
The option of sending the high school students off the island garnered 24 votes in Stonington and 41 in Deer Isle.
The other referendum question pertained to whether high school students should be moved into the elementary school or kept in the high school building.
Residents in both towns voted to keep the secondary students in their own building. However, the margin wasn’t as wide as the vote to keep high school education on the island.
In Stonington the vote was 269 to 77 to keep the high school building open.
In Deer Isle, the vote was 517 to 154 to keep the high school building.
“It is great to see that so many community members participated in our advisory vote,” said Union 76 Superintendent Christian Elkington. “It is now very clear that the people of Deer Isle and Stonington, by overwhelming margins in both towns, want to keep all K-12 students on island.”
Now the work begins.
Osborne said there are “two prongs we’re going to have to pursue.” One is the high school facility itself and the other is the education component.
“We need to go forward with the initiative to widen the programming,” said Osborne. The other part is to “get our results where we want them to be.”
Elkington said over the past eight months it was “made clear to me through multiple one-on-one interactions with parents and community members that, like the board, they want our students to demonstrate improved academic results.
“Parents and community members also made it clear that they realize if we want our students and schools to prosper that we can’t walk back the clock and do what we tried before,” said Elkington. “We need to continue with the changes already started and the ones that need to come next if we want to make improvements to teaching and learning, our schools and student success.
“Over the next year we will need to continue to increase parent and community involvement in planning and next steps if we expect to make creative improvements,” the superintendent said.
Deer Isle-Stonington High School has 100 students this year.
A group of officials and residents formed a Future of Our Schools Committee that has been meeting since July to examine education costs and other issues.
The committee compiled estimates for sending children elsewhere for high school as well as the cost of putting the high school students at the K-8 elementary school.
Sending high school students off the island is the least expensive option but not by much.
This year’s total education budget K-12 totals $6.6 million.
A total education budget with high school students elsewhere is projected to cost $6,058,896.
Moving the high school students into the elementary school would result in an estimated total education budget of $6,090,041.
State Rep. Genevieve McDonald (D-Stonington) is pleased with the referendum outcome.
“It’s wonderful to see the community turnout with such strong support for our high school,” said McDonald. “As a parent myself, I’m relieved we won’t be faced with the decision of moving off island and will be able to continue living in a community that values a robust education system supporting local residents of all ages.”