SAD 59 voters reject plan for regional school unit

Posted Jan. 27, 2009, at 11:15 p.m.

MADISON, Maine — Voters in SAD 59 on Tuesday defeated a consolidation plan that would have created one large regional school unit for SADs 59, 74 and 13.

The towns of The Forks, Caratunk, Dennistown Plantation and Pleasant Ridge, which are not part of any district, also were included in the consolidation plan.

SAD 59 Superintendent Michael Gallagher said the combined vote in the four member towns of Madison, Starks, Athens and Brighton Plantation was 524 against the plan and 244 in favor. Each town defeated the measure.

Final tallies for the other towns and districts were not available late Tuesday.

The defeat triggers a loss-of-revenue penalty for SAD 59 of $185,000 for not approving a merger plan by Friday, Jan. 30.

“It will certainly be tough trying to build a budget,” Gallagher said.

He said the vote came as no surprise since a public hearing on the vote was contentious.

Gallagher said voters expressed their dislike of the plan, which would give SAD 59 34 percent of the voting power on a new RSU board while it would pay 45 percent of the cost-sharing agreement.

Gallagher is a shared superintendent, working part time for SAD 59 and part time for SAD 53, which serves Pittsfield, Detroit and Burnham. He is in a unique position, as both districts stand to lose revenue for failing to consolidate.

SAD 53 could lose $175,000 in state revenues because SAD 59 rejected it as a partner last June. The penalty stands, even though SAD 53 voters approved the merger.

State Rep. Stacey Fitts, R-Pittsfield, has introduced emergency legislation that would suspend the penalties as long as a district still was seeking other partners, but the penalties could be suspended only for districts that voted in the affirmative. If the legislation passes, SAD 53 would not be penalized. But Gallagher explained that because the four towns in SAD 59 defeated the merger, they would lose the income even if the legislation passes.

“I guess it is back to the drawing board,” Gallagher said.

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