Midcoast voters reject school plan

Posted Jan. 27, 2009, at 11:04 p.m.

CAMDEN, Maine — As some officials had anticipated, voters in five midcoast towns turned down school consolidation Tuesday by a wide margin.

Voters in Camden, Rockport, Appleton, Lincolnville and Hope decided against reorganizing 656-135.

“It’s not unexpected,” said Michael Weatherwax on Tuesday night after the votes were tallied. Weatherwax is the assistant superintendent of the Five Town Community School District and SAD 28, as well as chairman of the reorganization committee.

“The law the way it was written certainly did not work for our communities,” he said. “We were penalized whether we approved an [alternative organization structure] or voted it down.”

Voters turned it down in Camden 220-43; in Rockport 129-33; in Appleton 91-22; in Lincolnville 128-23; and in Hope 88-14.

The Maine Department of Education had recommended that the five towns form one regional school unit as part of the statewide school consolidation effort.

Weatherwax said that three of the five school boards had recommended against the consolidation. The towns will have to pay a penalty to the state that he said might add up to almost $600,000 a year, although the precise sum is hard to gauge.

The penalty would be less than what Camden and Rockport would lose in annual state subsidies, according to the reorganization committee.

“The law was put into place for financial reasons, not educational reasons,” Weatherwax said. “What is useful is that we opened the conversation about consolidation.”

Patricia Hopkins, the superintendent of the Five Town Community School District and SAD 28, said that she thought the plan’s developers would be pleased to learn that the voters recognized its flaws.

“While most supported the concept of consolidation, they did not support how this law would have impacted our Five Town communities,” she said Tuesday night. “Now that this plan has been voted down, it will be important for folks to return to the table to develop a plan that will work for all five towns and will not negatively impact school programs or taxpayers.”

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