April 24, 2018
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SAD 29 decides to wait and see

By Jen Lynds, BDN Staff

HOULTON, Maine — Officials in SAD 29 are waiting to see how other towns vote on school regionalization plans before they take steps toward formulating a plan of their own.

In November, voters in the district turned down a proposed regional school consolidation plan that called for SAD 29 in Houlton, SAD 70 in Hodgdon, SAD 14 in Danforth, Community School District 9 in Dyer Brook and the municipal units of Hersey, Moro Plantation, Orient and Bancroft to consolidate to form the Tri-County Regional School Unit.

Once that happened, all the members of the RSU except SAD 29 submitted a plan for an Alternative Organizational Structure. The alternative called for those districts and towns to partner on reorganization. That plan was approved by the Department of Education.

Towns involved in the proposed AOS will vote on the plan on Jan. 27.

SAD 29 chose to move forward alone and submitted an alternative plan asking Education Commissioner Susan Gendron for permission to do so. In early December, it was announced that SAD 29’s plan was turned down.

The reorganization plan and the referendum were in response to the law passed in June 2007 requiring that the state’s 290 school districts be reorganized into approximately 80 regional school units governed by regional school boards.

SAD 29 Superintendent Steve Fitzpatrick said Tuesday that the district now is watching to see if several districts in surrounding towns approve their plans.

“We are waiting to see if the AOS that consists of SAD 70, SAD 25 and the other entities passes, and if SAD 42 and SAD 45 and Easton and Bridgewater approve their plans,” he said. “If they don’t, there may be other districts left over that we can partner with. We are pretty much just waiting for the dust to settle after the votes.”

The regionalization law states that “existing school units should aim to form regional school units of at least 2,500 resident students.”

If SAD 29 were to move forward without a partner, the district would have 1,315 students, which is more than the minimum of 1,200 students needed under the law to form a regional school unit.

The deadline for referendums and plans is Jan. 30. If plans to consolidate school administrations are not approved by that time, school districts may face financial penalties.

David Connerty-Marin, communications director for the DOE, said Tuesday afternoon that SAD 29 would not necessarily face financial penalties from the state because they do not have a plan approved by voters by the required deadline.

“They have met the requirement to put a plan to voters by the end of January and the voters said no,” he said, adding that Gendron had indicated SAD 29 could also avoid the penalty if they put another plan before voters by the time the DOE sends out its General Purpose Aid to education figures.

“That is typically in February, but given the current budget situation, it could be later than that,” said Connerty-Marin.

Fitzpatrick said the district is keeping all of its options open.

“We will be watching closely as things move forward,” he said Tuesday.

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