FORT KENT, Maine — Voter turnout was light on Thursday but it was enough to pass a referendum combining SAD 27 and SAD 10 into one alternative operating structure, or AOS, in accordance with state law.
Thursday’s vote marked the third time in three years voters went to the polls to address the school consolidation issue.
“The third time was indeed the charm,” said Dr. Patrick O’Neill, SAD 27 superintendent. “Now the real work begins in taking steps to create this AOS.”
In a November 2008 referendum, St. John Valley voters turned down a proposed alternative operating structure combining SAD 10, Allagash; SAD 27, Fort Kent; SAD 33, St. Agatha; SAD 24, Van Buren; and the Madawaska School Department into one administrative unit.
After that defeat, Maine Education Commissioner Susan Gendron approved the alternative operating structure combining SAD 10 and SAD 27.
In January, voters in the seven municipalities making up SAD 27 overwhelmingly approved the proposal while those in SAD 10 rejected it by a wide margin, effectively halting the consolidation.
On Thursday voters in SAD 27 approved the measure 122-15 while it passed with a 37-10 vote in SAD 10.
Had the vote again failed, SAD 27 and SAD 10 faced stiff financial penalties of $169,000 and $6,000, respectively.
Residents had until July 1 to pave the way for the new AOS, which combines administrative functions of the two districts.
“The next step is creating the AOS board and approving the AOS budget,” O’Neill said. “Our district office people are working on that now.”
The new board will include all current members of the SAD 27 board of directors and one member from the SAD 10 board.
Once the budget is hammered out, it goes to voters for approval by referendum, probably around July 1, O’Neill said.
At the same time, as SADs 27 and 10 no longer exist, O’Neill said the new board would come up with a name for the AOS after it elects its chair and hires a new superintendent.
Within the proposed AOS, there are provisions for other districts to join at any point.
For now, SAD 33 in Frenchville, SAD 24 in Van Buren and the Madawaska School Department have opted to take a wait-and-see attitude before entering a consolidated district as the Legislature deals with petitions looking to repeal the penalty component of the law.
“Had we gone with an RSU, it would have locked us in and no other districts could have joined at a later date,” O’Neill said.