Hearing Jan. 20 on Stearns High foreign students

Posted Jan. 18, 2011, at 10:42 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 7:24 a.m.

MILLINOCKET, Maine — Thanks to a snowstorm last week canceling an earlier meeting, residents will get their first public hearing Thursday 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 has said.

More Chinese students would enroll with each passing year. Thursday’s meeting, which will start in the school auditorium at 6 p.m., will be the first public hearing dedicated to the issue, though the Millinocket School Committee has discussed its plans at several meetings dating back to Superintendent Sara Alberts’ tenure last year, and also briefed the Town Council, members say.

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 Lee Academy’s successful Chinese and South Korean student program has.

Of the $27,000 tentatively set as tuition costs per foreign student, $13,000 would pay for schooling and $14,000 for room and board, Smith has said. The plan would pay for itself, he says. Committee Chairman Arnold Hopkins has expressed less certainty, saying the plan might need to be delayed a year.

If Millinocket’s long-range plan 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.

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.

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