EAST MACHIAS, Maine — A 31-member committee that consists of selectmen, school board members and residents representing 11 towns voted unanimously Tuesday night to move toward consolidating into an Alternative Organizational Structure.
The School Reorganization Planning Committee is creating the Machias Bay Area School System.
The plan now will go before the individual school committees representing the 11 towns for their approval. The plan calls for merging School Union 102, Machias, Jonesboro, Marshfield, Northfield, Wesley, Roque Bluffs, and Whitneyville; Union 134, Cutler, Whiting and Machiasport; and the stand-alone union of East Machias. If the school committees approve the consolidation, each town will hold a public hearing and referendum vote.
About 50 residents attended the meeting, held at Elm Street School. There was very little discussion, either by the committee or the public.
All of the towns involved are already under the guidance of a single superintendent, Scott Porter, who explained that an AOS would allow each town to retain its school, its own committee, its own budget and still meet state consolidation laws.
Porter said that when the same towns voted against creating a Regional School Unit last year, it was because only one subsidy check would be sent to the school system and there was no way to back out of the district.
“We wanted to keep local control,” committee chairman John Sprague of Marshfield said. “With an RSU the state wanted to send one check and we could fight over it. We did not want to pay for students from other towns or have other towns pay for ours. We wanted each town to pay for their own. Also, we couldn’t get out of an RSU once we got in.”
Last Friday, however, the state Legislature’s Education Committee unanimously approved amendments to the AOS definition and structure that would allow for each town to receive its own subsidy check and also provide a method for withdrawal.
“What we are proposing is basically what we are already doing,” Porter said. The consolidation mainly affects the way the central office operates, he explained. The AOS would not affect local school choice or have the authority to close any school, he said.
Porter presented an ambitious time line for each town to vote on the issue in order to meet a deadline of July 1. Without consolidation by that date, the 11 towns will be assessed state penalties that total $208,073.71 for their failure to consolidate.
“We waited this long to see if the [consolidation] law was going to be repealed,” Porter said. He said that at least two other SADs are attempting the same AOS consolidation — SAD 42 in Mars Hill and SAD 20 in Fort Fairfield.
The timeline for adoption calls for public hearings in the individual communities between April 5 and 15, with the referendum vote taking place Thursday, April 29.
When asked what would happen if any town votes down consolidation, Porter said a threshold of 700 students has been set. The 11 towns contain a total of 1,006 students.