HOWLAND, Maine — SAD 31 will stay with the proposed Regional School Unit 17 after a two-vote difference kept SAD 31 communities from opting to partner with Katahdin region schools, officials said Tuesday.
Six SAD 31 board members — including Howland’s four representatives — voted to pursue partnering with schools in East Millinocket, Medway and Millinocket, but eight other directors voted against it during a special meeting Monday night.
One of the eight opposing board members then called for another vote reaffirming SAD 31’s commitment to RSU 17. The motion passed 10-4. That vote, Chairman John Neel said, was probably unnecessary, given that SAD 31’s communities have always been part of the proposed regional school unit, but the vote did make the board’s commitment clear.
A Howland representative, Neel said his town’s representatives, plus Patricia Faloom of Passadumkeag and Carlyn Libby of Edinburg, were enticed by the idea of having more local control over schools as afforded by the alternative organizational structure pursued by the Katahdin schools.
“The administration [of an alternative structure] would be more like a school union,” Neel said Tuesday, “and some felt that it would give more of a local flavor to our board to administer to the needs of the schools.”
As part of RSU 17, Howland representatives would share authority with a group of elected officials representing about 25 towns, Superintendent Jerry White said.
Neel declined to say whether pursuing an alternative structure with the Katahdin schools eventually would mean busing students to the Katahdin region. White said he didn’t anticipate students being bused to Millinocket, but left open the possibility of busing students to Medway or East Millinocket had the alternative structure been pursued.
By virtue of having Exit 217 of Interstate 95 within their town’s lines, Howland residents probably have the fastest ride to Medway, the Katahdin town closest to SAD 31. Medway is about 30 miles away by I-95. East Millinocket and Millinocket are farther away.
Still, school officials could administer an alternative structure covering that distance, White said, through technology, such as video and audio conferencing. Under an alternative structure, town boards would form committees that would meet weekly or bi-weekly while the unifying alternative structure board could meet monthly or less often.
“Keep in mind that any of these reorganization structures are reorganizations of governments, so if you have telecommunications, then video and audio, you can literally have board meetings via board conversations,” White said.
If the RSU initiative succeeds, it would mark the first time in at least 30 years that Lincoln and Howland schools merged, if ever.
Previous efforts to merge SAD 31 with SAD 67 failed, partially because a vocal group of Howland residents, including some schoolteachers, fought to keep a high school in Howland — a fight that apparently ended with the successful renovation of a wing of the interconnected Hichborn Middle School and Penobscot Valley High School.
SAD 31 serves Burlington, Edinburg, Enfield, Howland, Maxfield and Passadumkeag. SAD 67 serves Chester, Lincoln and Mattawamkeag.