Chester, Lincoln and Mattawamkeag residents will elect leaders of the new state-mandated school system for the region on Tuesday, but for the first time in years, they won’t have a full slate to choose from.
Seven candidates — David Edwards, Judith Junkins, Darla Lichtenberg, Jeffrey Schick, Debra Tardy, Jacqueline Thurlow and John Trask — are running for eight seats that will represent Lincoln as part of RSU 67, town officials said.
For Chester, Carolyn Smith is running for one of two seats, while in Mattawamkeag, no one filed papers in time to make the ballot for the regional school unit board election. Write-in candidates likely will fill the open positions, said Junkins, chairwoman of the board of SAD 67, the entity that will be replaced by the RSU with this election.
Junkins wasn’t sure why the board failed to draw enough candidates.
“I think it’s partly because some people may still be under the impression that the same people will carry over [from SAD 67]. I hope it’s not a lack of interest,” Junkins said Sunday. “It’s hard to get people to run for school boards and town councils.”
The only school administrative district or unit in Penobscot County between Passadumkeag and Millinocket to get state and voter approval to form an RSU this year — voter approval coming during a special referendum on Jan. 27 — SAD 67 and its board of directors will be dissolved once the new board members take their seats, school officials have said.
The special election on Tuesday is required by the law forcing school regionalization statewide by July 1.
Efforts to combine the towns of SADs 30, 31 and 67, Union 110 and several communities around them, including Woodville, Lowell and Seboeis Plantation, failed in the Jan. 27 vote. The Katahdin region towns of East Millinocket, Medway and Millinocket also failed to form an alternative school unit — or alternative organizational structure, in state education parlance.
The apparent lack of interest might be a combination of ill timing — most elections being held in November — and a dislike of the state-mandated regionalization, Junkins said, although the component parts of the new district, the three towns, remain identical, and local and state officials have promised that RSU 67 students will see little difference between the new and old regimes when they return to school in September.
“I know there are mixed feelings out there. The only thing I can say is we will do our very best,” Junkins said. “We are doing what we need to do and making lemonade out of lemons.”
The new board will have plenty of difficult tasks to perform, she said, including:
• Formulation of a new school budget — the greatest difficulty, Junkins said, as state and federal funding is expected to be at least flat, if not diminished, for the next two school years.
• The creation of new school regulations, although the new board likely will opt to accept the SAD 67 regulations in one shot, Junkins said.
• The closing of Carl Troutt School in Mattawamkeag, although Mattawamkeag residents will vote later this month on whether to pay themselves to keep the school open.
“I think we will have an excellent board,” Junkins said.
The polls be open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln and at the town offices in Chester and Mattawamkeag. Absentee ballots may be picked up today, and voters may register to vote today or Tuesday, town officials said.