DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — School Administrative District 68 is smack in the middle of Piscataquis County yet it finds itself isolated.
For months now, SAD 68 has extended a seat at the table to surrounding districts hoping to find a partner for the state’s required school consolidation effort. A partnership would save the district from the $177,000 penalty it faces for not consolidating with another school system.
While surrounding districts are willing to work with SAD 68 on efficiencies, no district has been interested in consolidating, according to SAD 68 Superintendent Alan Smith. The only option left is to file for doughnut hole status, he said.
Maine law allows for an exception from consolidation. Under that exception, districts that exercise “due diligence with respect to consolidation” but experience rejection by surrounding districts will not be penalized as long as they provide alternative ways to meet efficiencies.
“At this point in time, we don’t have any partners to actually consolidate with,” Smith said. “We have a lot of area systems that are very willing to work with us around efficiencies, and us with them, of course. But to actually form a consolidated partnership at this point in time, the area schools would prefer to kind of do their own decision making.”
In past months, the district has discussed partnering with SAD 41 in Milo, SAD 4 in Guilford, Greenville and SAD 53 without any success, according to Smith. Right now, these schools would prefer to seek efficiencies but not any type of actual consolidation, he said.
The doughnut hole status, if approved, would eliminate the penalty. The state has granted that status to schools in Kittery, Bethel and Corinth, Smith said. In addition to making the district immune to any financial penalties, the status would allow the district to move forward as a system rather than take more time to create a new, consolidated system.
“It’s frustrating,” Smith said of the lengthy process. He said he hopes the state will look favorably at the information the district provides. “We’re staring at a penalty that doesn’t make a lot of sense in my opinion, when we’ve done everything to try to follow the guidelines that were laid out.”