February 24, 2018
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Etna-based schools merger sparks a fight

By Sharon Kiley Mack, BDN Staff

ETNA, Maine — Some residents, concerned that SAD 38 will be buying a pig in a poke if it consolidates with SAD 48, are campaigning to defeat the effort in Tuesday’s voting.

“Folks can see for themselves how SAD 38 is getting the short end of the stick,” Jan Winchester, a member of the Friends of the Etna-Dixmont School, said Thursday.

“At best, the new district could save $17,000 the first year and maybe the same the following year. Etna and Dixmont are being asked to give up our school building, which has no debt, the land which it sits upon, all local control — we’ll have 14 percent of the vote, big whoop, and loss of choice for high school students over the high school they will attend, all with a definite tax increase.”

SAD 38 Superintendent Jim Backus disagrees completely with the group’s assessment. He said careful research indicates SAD 38 will save considerable money with the consolidation.

“When the process first began, we compared the school year 2006 and 2007 and determined that if we had consolidated right then, we would have saved $100,000. When we further looked at high school tuition, central office savings and the balancing of teachers’ pay, we determined we would save $310,000 for that year. That would have been $48,000 for Etna and $64,000 for Dixmont.”

Backus said that school choice for high school students is the driving force behind the anti-consolidation effort — even though new fliers provided at a public hearing Wednesday by group members cite building conditions by the Newport-based SAD 48 as the basis.

The group used research conducted by SAD 48 to bolster its assertions. In November 2004, M.E. McCormick Facilities Management Consultants presented the district with a long-range facilities plan that concluded the district would need to spend $30 million over the next 20 years to bring its eight buildings up to snuff.

The flier says that once consolidation became a reality, the school board stopped discussing the McCormick report.

“Even if we use the optimistic assumptions of SAD 48’s own analysis, we find that consolidation is a bad idea,” the handout says. “Consolidation will cost SAD 38 at least $200,000 per year.”

Not true, Backus said. He said the information in the McCormick report is “being misused and putting fear into the taxpayers.” He said the group is just a minority, however, and likely will not affect the vote’s outcome. About 60 people attended Wednesday’s public hearing.

“SAD 48’s buildings are all in good shape,” Backus said. “The McCormick report consists of pie-in-the-sky goals.”

Backus said the biggest factor in the consolidation is that SAD 38 — a small district — will be absorbed by SAD 48 — a much larger district — and that will result in savings across the board.

Winchester said her group solidly opposes the merger and will continue to lobby for its defeat.

“Consolidation as a [regional school unit] with SAD 48 is a raw deal for Etna and Dixmont,” she said, suggesting that a more palatable option would be to form an alternative organizational structure, similar to what Maine’s island communities are doing. “But we must first vote down the consolidation on November 4th before any other options can be discussed and acted upon,” she said.



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