June 21, 2018
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SAD 68 ‘doughnut hole’ status rejected again

By Diana Bowley, BDN Staff

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — There comes a time when enough is enough, and a SAD 68 official said his district has arrived at that point.

After twice being rejected by surrounding districts in an effort to reorganize administrative offices to comply with state law, SAD 68 officials had hoped their second request for “doughnut hole” exemption status would be honored by the Department of Education.

Instead, the state recently told SAD 68 — which covers Dover-Foxcroft, Sebec, Charleston and Monson — to go back and again pursue its neighbors who are either nonconforming or conforming with the state regionalization law.

“To be honest, I think everybody is quite frustrated,” SAD 68 Superintendent Alan Smith said Wednesday. “We’ve done everything they’ve asked and more, and what’s concerning to me is where does common sense start to play a role here.”

Because the district continues to face a $200,000 penalty for not regionalizing, Smith said school officials will attempt to convince the Department of Education that it has done its due diligence and should not be penalized.

“It’s still that unknown, and it’s not fair to these communities that I’m superintendent of. I mean, this is a $200,000 tax, and yet they’ve done every single thing right, and in my eyes, have gone above and beyond,” Smith said. “It’s just not fair; it’s not right.”

Smith said he has hopes that those elected Tuesday to state offices may be more sympathetic to the district’s position.

During a district referendum in 2009, SAD 68 residents voted in favor of forming an alternative organizational structure with SAD 41 (Milo), SAD 12 (Jackman), the Bowerbank School Department, and Greenville-area schools, but those partners rejected the move.

Discussions were initiated earlier this year with SAD 4 (Guilford) and SAD 41 (Milo), but those two districts later elected to seek partnerships with other districts. SAD 41 is now in discussions with SAD 31 (Howland), and SAD 4 is in discussions with SAD 46 (Dexter).

Smith would not speculate about why no district wants to partner with SAD 68, but he did note that the district is larger than surrounding districts and is unique because it has a private school — Foxcroft Academy — that educates its high school students.

Since the district has acted in good faith and has gone above and beyond expectations to comply with the law, Smith said the district would ask that the coming year’s $200,000 penalty be waived. In addition, Smith said the district would move forward and attempt to make itself whole again.

Just where to start is the question, according to the superintendent. While the district has unique circumstances, Smith said he thinks state officials fear that if they approve SAD 68’s exemption, other districts without willing partners will expect the same treatment.

But those other districts do not have SAD 68’s makeup, Smith said, again noting the private academy and the district’s varied program offerings that some districts are unable to offer. On top of that, communities on each side of SAD 68 have clearly stated that they want to go in different directions.

While Gov.-elect Paul LePage does not believe the penalty phase is fair to districts and SAD 68 may get some relief there, Smith said, state officials need to understand that enough is enough.

“All that work and effort has to be revisited and that just takes a tremendous amount of energy and time,” he said of each regionalization effort.

Regionalization is never far from his mind, he said.

“It’s kind of strange, in the sense you go about your business, you do this and you do that, but then it just creeps back in,” he said.

He said the district needs to move forward with its educational goals and opportunities without having to constantly revisit the issue.

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