State ruling boosts Katahdin area school plan

Posted Dec. 24, 2008, at 8:23 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 11:09 a.m.

Sunrise Peak School District proponents hope a recent Maine Department of Education decision will help them sell to voters their plan to combine East Millinocket, Medway and Millinocket schools next year, officials said Wednesday.

With the vote set for Jan. 27, the district’s organizational committee will be holding public hearings on the proposal at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 7, at Medway Middle School; Thursday, Jan. 8, at Stearns High School of Millinocket; and Tuesday, Jan. 13, at the East Millinocket town office, said William Hamlin of East Millinocket, a committee member.

The department’s decision was to have the state decide how much state funding each town will receive for education annually. State officials had said previously that they would leave that to the Sunrise board of directors, which local leaders feared would set off endless arguing among the three Katahdin region towns.

“That is a dream come true as far as us getting ourselves organized goes,” Wallace Paul, Millinocket’s Town Council chairman and a committee member, said Wednesday. “It allows us to keep almost everything exactly as it is now, with a few improvements.”

“That was a big deal,” Hamlin said. “We don’t have to worry because the same people who are going to be breaking out our financial situation are the same people who have been writing our [state reimbursement] checks all along.”

Hamlin credited Sara Alberts, superintendent of the three towns’ schools, and Robert B. Kautz, the organizational committee’s state-appointed facilitator, with engineering the state decision.

“They did a mountain-load of work,” Hamlin said. “I am optimistic that it will pass all three towns now that the funding has been figured out. I think that was the big stumbling block.”

If the voters approve, the schools will form the Alternative Organizational Structure by July 1. If voters do not OK the plan, state law compels the regionalization effort to continue until something is passed, or else each town is penalized financially.

Under the proposed AOS, the towns will have committees running their schools, with each committee naming three members to an AOS board and one superintendent supervising the schools. That’s essentially just as the schools operate now through Union 110, the Millinocket School Committee and Alberts.

Per state requirements mandating a listing of expected regionalization savings, the Sunrise Peak proposal assumes a $236,000 savings, but that claim, committee members have said, is largely illusory. It is found, they said, in things the towns have done already, including hiring one superintendent for the region and combining several other administrative posts and programs.

“We can either keep it the way it is and not pay the state penalty, or we can vote it down, keep it the way it is and pay a large penalty,” Paul said. “There’s a logic here that I hope people see.”

All state-approved school reorganization plans are available at maine.gov/education/reorg/plansandresponses.html.

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