Of the 18 school reorganization plans up for votes around the state during Tuesday’s balloting, voters in affected districts approved 12 plans and rejected five, including three in Aroostook County. One plan involving SAD 37 in Washington County received partial approval, and a vote by other plan participants is scheduled for later this month.
The approved plans will consolidate 42 school districts into 12 reorganized units.
Voters in the St. John Valley, however, overwhelmingly rejected a plan for an alternative organizational structure.
“My sense is people do not want to give up local control,” Dr. Patrick O’Neill, SAD 27 superintendent, said Wednesday afternoon.
O’Neill said he believed officials in Augusta could have done a better job of explaining the legislation mandating the reorganization before districts began addressing the issues at home.
There simply was not enough time, the superintendent said, to come up with a new plan and explain the rationale behind it.
“In essence this was a rush job,” O’Neill said. “And this is what happens when you rush a job.”
Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin said, “The process worked the way it was supposed to. People got to vote on locally crafted reorganization plans, and two-thirds of them voted yes.”
Education Commissioner Susan Gendron said the votes represent an important step in “improving efficiency, stream-lining operations and generating savings that will help preserve quality instructional programs.”
“Most importantly, this is a step forward for creating educational opportunities for students,” Gendron said Wednesday in a prepared release. “There is a financial imperative — made all the more apparent by the financial news of the past few weeks — to change the way we administer education. We cannot sustain the system we have in place.”
Voters approved consolidation plans in these areas:
• SAD 56 (Frankfort, Searsport, Stockton Springs) and SAD 34 (Belfast, Belmont, Morrill, Northport, Searsmont, Swanville).
• Mount Desert Island and surrounding towns: Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert, Tremont, Frenchboro, Swan’s Island, Cranberry Isles and Trenton.
• SAD 21 (Canton, Carthage, Dixfield), SAD 43 (Byron, Mexico, Roxbury, Rumford), SAD 39 (Buckfield, Hartford, Sumner) and Hanover.
• SAD 5 (Owls Head, Rockland, South Thomaston) and SAD 50 (Cushing, St. George, Thomaston).
• Windham and Raymond.
• SAD 47 (Belgrade, Oakland, Rome, Sidney) and China.
• Freeport, Pownal and Durham.
• Sheepscot Valley (Alna, Wiscasset, Westport Island, Palermo, Somerville, Whitefield, Windsor and Chelsea).
• Saco, Old Orchard Beach and Dayton.
• Poland, Minot and Mechanic Falls.
• SAD 71 (Kennebunk and Kennebunkport) and Arundel.
• SAD 38 (Dixmont, Etna) and SAD 48 (Corinna, Hartland, Newport, Palmyra, Plymouth, St. Albans).
Voters rejected plans for:
• SAD 9 (Chesterville, Farmington, Industry, New Sharon, New Vineyard, Temple, Vienna, Weld, Wilton) and SAD 58 (Avon, Eustis, Kingfield, Phillips, Strong).
• Falmouth and SAD 51 (Cumberland, North Yarmouth, Chebeague Island).
• SAD 1 (Castle Hill, Chapman, Mapleton, Presque Isle, Westfield) and SAD 32 (Ashland, Garfield Plantation, Masardis, Oxbow Plantation, Portage Lake).
• SAD 29 (Hammond, Houlton, Littleton and Monticello), SAD 70 (Hodgdon, Linneus, New Limerick, Ludlow, Cary, Amity and Haynesville), SAD 14 in Danforth, Community School District 9 in Dyer Brook and the municipal units of Hersey, Moro Plantation, Orient and Bancroft.
• St. John Valley district that would comprise SAD 10 (Allagash), SAD 27 (Eagle Lake, Fort Kent, New Canada, St. Francis, St. John Plantation, Wallagrass, Winterville), SAD 33 (Frenchville, St. Agatha), SAD 24 (Cyr Plantation, Hamlin, Van Buren) and Madawaska.
According to Connerty-Marin, those districts that have rejected reorganization plans should have procedures that were part of the plan to deal with the rejection.
“There are several possibilities,” Connerty-Marin said Wednesday. “Some units may choose to reopen negotiations. Some may look for new solutions with different partners. Some may submit an alternative plan to stand alone. Those will have to meet eligibility standards, and the commissioner will be looking at sustainability as well as other issues.”
The school administration consolidation law passed in June 2007, together with amendments made earlier this year, requires communities to approve a plan for consolidation by Jan. 30, 2009. Systems that fail to meet the requirements face financial penalties in the form of reduced funding.
In the St. John Valley, the penalties could range from $5,810 in SAD 10 and $8,972 in Nashville Plantation, to much more in larger districts like SAD 27 which could lose $169,537 in funding.
Voters in SAD 37 (Addison, Cherryfield, Columbia, Columbia Falls, Harrington, Milbridge) and the towns of Beddington and Deblois, also voted on a reorganization plan on Tuesday. The SAD voters approved the plan by a combined vote of 1,503 to 1,249. Voters in Deblois also approved the plan. Beddington voters rejected the plan. That vote will not affect the formation of the new district, according to SAD 37 Superintendent David Beal.
The key vote, he said, will be what happens when Jonesport and Beals vote on the plan later this month. The new district needs the 200 or so students in those towns to meet the 1,000-student threshold to form a new school unit, Beal said.
The votes in Jonesport and Beals are scheduled for Nov. 18. According to Connerty-Marin, 20 more votes on district reorganization plans will take place between now and January.
Freelance writer Julia Bayly in Fort Kent contributed to this report.