FORT KENT, Maine — Voters in SADs 27 and 10 head to the polls one more time Tuesday to decide the fate of a proposed school district consolidation plan in accordance with Maine law.
If the plan fails to win voter approval, taxpayers in the two districts face $176,000 in penalties.
“This is a significant chunk of change we’d be losing at a time we can stand to lose the least,” said Dr. Patrick O’Neill, SAD 27 superintendent. “For us to lose that would be disastrous.”
A financial disaster made worse, he said, by $80,000 in subsidies for this year already placed on hold by the state because of budgetary shortfalls.
Residents from the eight municipalities currently making up the two districts vote on the Alternative Organizational Structure, or AOS, at special a referendum Jan. 27.
In a November referendum voters turned down a proposed AOS that would have combined SAD 10, Allagash; SAD 27, Fort Kent; SAD 33, St. Agatha; SAD 24, Van Buren; and the Madawaska School Department into one administrative unit.
Under the law passed in June 2007, the 290 Maine school districts have until July 1 to reorganize into approximately 80 larger, regional units with the goal of streamlining operations and reducing costs.
Earlier this month, Maine Education Commissioner Susan Gendron approved the AOS plan to combine the administrations of SAD 10 and SAD 27.
While the two districts will now operate under one superintendent for administrative purposes, the structure allows each to retain its own school board.
Allagash currently sends its students to elementary and high school in Fort Kent since the town’s one consolidated school closed due to declining enrollment.
Maine communities have until the end of this month to comply with the school consolidation law or face financial penalties.
O’Neill pointed out that the door remains open for other school districts to join the AOS with board approval at a later date. At the same time, any district may also choose to leave the AOS.
“We realize there is a movement statewide to repeal the school consolidation law,” O’Neill said. “But even if that passes through the Legislature it could take three years to take effect; in the short term we must comply.”
While the SAD 27 and SAD 10 boards were lukewarm on the plan presented in November, O’Neill said the boards, along with the Fort Kent Town Council, back the new plan.
“We encourage everyone to get out and vote,” the superintendent said. “The [school] board members see value in the merger, especially when finances are so limited.”
If approved, the new structure would go into effect July 1.
A number of other communities will be voting on school reorganization plans Tuesday in advance of the Jan. 31 deadline, including towns in the Caribou area, SAD 70 area in southern Aroostook County, Millinocket area, Lincoln area, Guilford area, Old Town-Milford area, Orono-Glenburn area and Brewer-Orrington area, among others.