Three Deer Isle residents will be attending Blue Hill Consolidated School this fall, after Commissioner Stephen Bowen approved their transfer.
The request was first denied by Union 76 (which includes the Deer Isle-Stonington schools) Superintendent Mark Jenkins.
“Maine education is based upon residency, local control, local school boards, and historically, when parents have asked for a superintendent transfer, most were approved for very specific and discreet reasons,” Jenkins said. He cited as examples a student being a victim or perpetrator of a crime.
Superintendent Mark Hurvitt, of Union 93 which oversees BHCS, said he did not support the request either.
“We felt there was no compelling educational reason,” said Hurvitt. “Both schools are [grades] K through 8, both are comparable.”
Under Maine state education law MRSA Title 20-A, §5205(6), superintendents may allow a student transfer if it is in the student’s best interest. The education commissioner then reviews and either confirms or reverses their decision. (Special education students placement is a consensus decision of school administrators and is governed by state and federal law.)
The education commissioner has long had the authority to overturn superintendents’ decisions on student transfers, a request that is usually denied by BHCS in accordance with its policy.
“It’s not something the board is comfortable with,” said Hurvitt. “The [education] commissioner about 98 percent of the time reverses the decision…in a backdoor way to implement school choice.”
Jenkins agreed. “The changes that have occurred in the commissioner overrides have nothing to do with educational decisions, but are political decisions, plain and simple.”
An amendment to MRSA §5205(6), allowing superintendents to appeal the commissioner’s decision to the 11-member state education board, was passed on June 24 and will become law 90 days later—after the 2013-14 school year begins.
“They got it in under the wire,” said Hurvitt.
For the Deer Isle family who made the request, the issue was what they see as a difference in curriculum and opportunity between the two schools.
“What we were looking for primarily [was] additional curriculum choices,” said parent Gordon Stewart, “including foreign language, in particular, [and] more opportunity for advanced math courses and more robust science curriculum. Those were the three areas we were looking for. And we found them in Blue Hill.”
The BHCS board has directed Hurvitt to inform the Deer Isle family that it plans to appeal the decision for the 2014-15 school year.
Stewart said he is aware of the upcoming appeal.
“Whether you’re in favor of school choice or not, we had a compelling reason that our children had educational needs that could be better satisfied somewhere else,” said Stewart. “We recognize that this is a small community. We’re sensitive to all [the] issues, but it came down to the bottom line.”
In the case of student transfers, the law states that the student is considered a resident of the district she or he is attending, and no tuition is required.