June 24, 2018
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Hearings set for school consolidation plan

By Joseph Cyr Houlton Pioneer Times, Special to the BDN

HODGDON, Maine — Now that the state Department of Education has signed off on a proposed reorganization plan that will unite central offices in SADs 70 and 14, as well as Orient and Bancroft, residents of the communities involved will have an opportunity to ask questions of their respective school boards.

Three public hearings have been scheduled in mid-January so residents may ask questions about the plan to form an alternative organizational structure between SADs 70 and 14. SAD 70 serves the communities of Amity, Cary Plantation, Haynesville, Hodgdon, Linneus, Ludlow and New Limerick. SAD 14 serves Danforth and Weston.

The first public hearing will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 11, at the Orient town office.

A public hearing for the residents of Danforth, Weston and Bancroft will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 12, in the cafeteria at East Grand School in Danforth.

A hearing for residents of the SAD 70 member towns will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 20, at Hodgdon High School.

The public hearings are the next step in the consolidation process. After the hearings, a public referendum vote will be held on Monday, Jan. 31, in each of the school districts. Should voters in either of the two main groups — SAD 14 or SAD 70 — turn down the proposal, the AOS plan would be scrapped.

Before the hearings could be held, the AOS plan had to gain the endorsement of Commissioner of Education Angela Flaherty. She sent a letter on Dec. 7 to the respective districts.

“Members of my staff and I have completed the review of your plan and have determined that it is consistent with the policy objectives and parameters set forth in the reorganization law, and it includes all required plan elements and adequate supporting documentation,” Flaherty stated in the letter.

SAD 14 Superintendent Richard Cote said, “The [SAD 14] board is very receptive to the idea of forming an AOS. I am not sure how the community feels, though. We have a faction in our community that is against any consolidation whatsoever. It doesn’t matter who it’s with; they are opposed to it.”

Cote said there is a fear by some that the school in Danforth would be closed or that residents’ taxes would go up if they were to join an AOS.

“That is not what this AOS plan will do,” Cote said.

SAD 70 Superintendent Bob McDaniel echoed those sentiments.

“This AOS plan is simply to consolidate central offices,” McDaniel said. “We are not trying to take over either school system. Each district will still maintain their local control.”

Under the proposed AOS plan, SADs 70 and 14 would keep their separate school boards and have control over all aspects of their schools, including curriculums. An AOS board, composed of members from each area, would be created for the sole purpose of governing the combined central offices.

McDaniel added that despite consolidating central offices, both districts would maintain their current superintendents until existing contracts expire. Then, one superintendent would be hired to oversee both districts.

By not consolidating, SAD 14 was penalized $23,000 in its current fiscal budget. Cote said he anticipated that penalty would increase to more than $30,000 by the next school budget. SAD 70 was penalized $93,000 in last year’s budget for not conforming to the state’s consolidation wishes. That penalty is expected to rise to nearly $100,000 in the next budget, but could be even higher.

“I really hope this plan goes through because we will save a little bit of money,” Cote said. “[If not] we will definitely have to cut something.”

Cote admitted that some people already have made up their mind about the consolidation and that there was not much the school board would be able to do to change their minds.

“We’ll just present the plan and let people ask their questions,” Cote said.

Under the proposal, a new AOS board composed of 11 members who are now school board members would be created for the purpose of governing the central office, which includes the superintendent, transportation director and special education programs. SAD 70 would have seven members on the board, since it has the larger population, while SAD 14 would have two and Orient and Bancroft would each have one.

A weighted-vote system would be established with a total of 997 possible votes. SAD 70 members would each have 112 votes, while SAD 14 representatives would have 85, Orient 30 and Bancroft 12. The weighted vote of each member of the AOS board would be adjusted annually to reflect the population of each municipality.

Reorganization has been an uphill climb for both school districts. The two were involved in regionalization discussions with CSD 9 (Southern Aroostook), SAD 25 (Katahdin) and SAD 29 (Houlton) to form a large Regional School Unit. That plan failed at the polls in November 2008.

SADs 70 and 14 then began discussions in December 2008 to form an AOS with CSD 9 and SAD 25. This effort again failed at a referendum vote in January 2009. SAD 70 continued extensive talks with SAD 29 to consolidate, but after a year of discussion, SAD 29 pulled out of the plan.

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