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Plan would bring Chinese students to Stearns

Nick Sambides | BDN
Nick Sambides | BDN
Kenneth Smith, Superintendent of Schools, Millinocket School Department, 12-30-10
By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff

MILLINOCKET, Maine — Residents will get their first public hearing Wednesday on a plan to allow as many as 200 students from China to attend Stearns High School.

Under the tentative and evolving proposal, as many as 25 Chinese students would attend Stearns in the 2010-11 school year, living as guests in community homes or in dormitory-type buildings such as bed-and-breakfasts, hotels or buildings the Millinocket School Department would use for that purpose, Superintendent Ken Smith said Tuesday.

More Chinese students would enroll with each year. Wednesday’s meeting, which will start in the school auditorium at 6 p.m., will be the first public hearing on the issue, though the Millinocket School Committee has discussed its plans at several meetings and also briefed the Town Council, members say.

“I am hoping that we will have a good turnout with all kinds of diverse opinions expressed,” committee Chairman Arnold Hopkins said Tuesday. “I need to hear what people have to say so I can make an informed and intelligent decision.”

An early plan advocate, Smith believes that the Chinese students would provide needed revenue to the underpopulated school, offset its declining school enrollment — which is about half of what it was 10 years ago — and broaden the intellectual and cultural horizons of the school and community much the way that Lee Academy’s successful Chinese and South Korean student program has.

Of the $27,000 tentatively set as per-foreign-student tuition costs, $13,000 would pay for schooling and $14,000 for room and board, Smith has said.

“There are obviously some people that don’t agree with this, but absent this, you would have to come up with another great plan,” Smith said Tuesday. “A lot depends on the number of [Asian] kids who show up, but regardless of what that number is, [the plan] will make money.

“It’s not going to cost anything. It will way more than pay for itself,” Smith added.

“That may be, but I need to see a balance sheet first,” Hopkins said. “It may be something we do but we may have to delay the implementation of this thing — the start date of this — from September 2011 to 2012.

“Everything is still in the works. This is a work in progress. Nothing has been decided,” Hopkins added. “We need a lot more information than we have now, but the time is coming where we will make some decisions as to what we are going to do.”

If Millinocket is successful, the town will be the first public school in the state, if not the nation, to enroll almost as many foreign as native students. The 200 would be almost half the school’s present population.

Smith’s efforts, which included a trip to China late last year to establish contacts, have drawn interest from public school educators in Florida, Kansas, New Hampshire, upstate New York, other Maine public schools and the White House, he has said.

Some residents have complained that the program is too big — that school officials should pursue consolidation with neighboring towns to reverse the student population decline, and offset declines in state educational aid, before embarking on a plan so ambitious.

Previous efforts to consolidate with East Millinocket, Medway and other towns that stretch back several years have failed to date. East Millinocket, Medway and Woodville officials have made clear that while they would like to continue programs that mix their students with Millinocket’s, consolidating their administrative or political leadership with Millinocket’s is not desirable.

Other towns have expressed no interest in consolidation with Millinocket or found the logistics too daunting.


Fast facts

Who: Millinocket residents

What: Public hearing with the Millinocket School Committee and other town leaders

Where: Stearns High School

When: 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 12

Why: To allow public feedback on the school’s plan to enroll as many as 200 students from China at Stearns

Source: Stearns High School.

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