DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Despite their partners’ rejection of a school reorganization plan, SAD 68 directors were encouraged by a state consultant Wednesday to invite their neighbors back to the table.
SAD 68 was the only district in its organizational unit to support the plan. Its partners, SADs 41 and 12, and towns in the Moosehead Lake region all rejected the plan.
Norman Higgins, who serves as a Department of Education consultant for the reorganization effort, told directors Wednesday that the educational component in the region’s plan was “probably the best one done.” He said he reviewed all of the plans submitted in the state and found the district’s plan focused on the needs of the children, which was not typical of the other plans.
Asked what SAD 68’s requirements are now in relation to the reorganization plan, Higgins said, “The requirement is you don’t have to do anything.” He said the state requirement was that school units had to find a partner or partners, develop and submit plans, have them approved by the department, and submit them for public action. If all or some of the partners voted yes, the plans would proceed.
State Education Commissioner Susan Gendron had told school officials from the start of the reorganization process that if a school unit voted yes and its partners voted no, then the school unit that voted yes would not be subject to a penalty for at least one year. After further review of the law by a number of lawyers, it was found to be quite the contrary, Higgins said.
Higgins said there are about 10 school systems that are in the same position as SAD 68. They include Fort Kent, Madawaska, Millinocket and Pittsfield. “There’s a group of schools that this would affect and the law would apply to,” he said.
Although the reorganization plans have been voted on throughout the state, a citizen petition asking for the elimination of the reorganization effort will be certified in the next few weeks, according to Higgins. The Legislature can accept the petition and do away with the law; send the matter to referendum; or decide to accept a competing measure, he explained. “For the Legislature to make any major adjustments to the current law would require a competing measure,” Higgins said.
“It’s a law that in many parts of the state people did not agree with but they proceeded forward, worked hard,” Higgins said. Whether there was agreement or disagreement on the final plans, he added, valuable experiences were gained.
Locally, Higgins credited the “tremendous amount of work” Sue Mackey Andrews of Dover-Foxcroft had contributed to the plan along with other members of the regional committee.
Andrews, who also spoke Wednesday, thanked the residents who supported the committee’s work. She asked the board to reflect on the committee’s work since it provided good opportunities regarding the needs of students and programs. “I don’t want that work to get lost because we didn’t reorganize,” she said.
Neither does Higgins. With enrollment declining in SADs 4, 41 and 68, he said the focus should be on the future. “I think we’re in a critical point, and that is, you are no longer required to do something, the question is what ought we do,” he said. Enrollment is about 725 each in SADs 4 and 41, and has dropped below 1,000 in SAD 68, he noted.
“Having been a high school principal for a long time I can tell you it’s really difficult to provide the quality educational programming for kids when you have really small sizes in high school,” Higgins said.