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School hearing Oct. 23 at Jonesport-Beals

By Steve Colhoun, Special to the BDN

HARRINGTON, Maine — A public hearing on the school administrative reorganization plan developed by 10 Washington County towns will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 23, at Jonesport-Beals High School.

A report prepared by the 26-member Regional Planning Committee for Beddington and Deblois, Jonesport and Beals of the Moosabec CSD and the SAD 37 towns of Addison, Columbia, Columbia Falls, Cherryfield, Harrington and Milbridge was released and discussed at a meeting last week at Narraguagus High School.

The plan to consolidate school administration has been offered in response to the Legislature’s law passed in June 2007 requiring that the state’s 298 school districts be reorganized into 88 regional school units governed by regional school boards.

A referendum vote to approve or reject the proposal will be on the ballot Nov. 4 for all the towns except Jonesport and Beals, which will vote Nov. 18.

Under the proposal, the RSU school board would be made up of 15 members with the five largest towns (Addison, Cherryfield, Harrington, Jonesport and Milbridge) having two representatives each and the other five having one representative each. Votes per member would be weighted according to the population of each town.

Some members of the CSD in Jonesport and Beals have said there is strong community resistance to joining the RSU.

“No one here feels we need to change,” said school board Chairman Harry Fish of Jonesport in a recent telephone interview.

Questions have been raised about the possibility of little if any cost saving being realized through consolidation, according to Fish. The possibility of looking into an alternative organizational structure, or AOS, also has been raised, according to school board member Sylvina Lyons of Beals who, with Fish, worked on the regional planning committee.

If voters reject the consolidation plan, funding penalties for school systems that fail to comply with the consolidation law may be levied. The RPC would have to begin the process again and meet a deadline of Jan. 30, 2009.

Ray Freve, superintendent in Searsport who was the facilitator for the planning committee, said at last Wednesday’s public meeting on the plan that Maine Department of Education Commissioner Susan Gendron likely would suspend the immediate imposition of penalties as long as towns are showing “due diligence” in efforts to reach a solution by the mandated date of July 1, 2009

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