Vocational school hits snag, but still has future

Posted Feb. 20, 2011, at 10:03 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — A project proposal to build an all-encompassing high school, college and vocational school here was met with a zero in Gov. Paul LePage’s budget line for new school construction. This could stalemate the 9-16 school until at least 2014.

But the project’s coordinator, Alan Hinsey, said other actions the LePage administration is taking are encouraging signs for the project.

In his inauguration speech, LePage addressed projects such as Rockland’s Many Flags One Campus school.

“We need to make vocational education a priority again in our schools. Training our young people in a trade while they earn their diploma is a path to a good living,” LePage said.

“I believe we also need to create five-year high schools in Maine where students can graduate with an associate’s degree.”

This year, the new governor added a budget line for such projects. There is no funding now in that line, but when there is, Rockland will be the first to snatch up the funds.

In October 2010, the Board of Education unanimously voted to push the Many Flags One Campus plan to the top of the integrated, consolidated 9-16 educational facility priority list. This would mean if any money were budgeted for this type of project in Maine, Rockland would get it. A Sanford-area 9-16 proposal is extremely similar to Rockland’s. It also incorporates community college, vocational and university programming in a high school.

Many Flags One Campus would cost about $70 million. The campus would consist of buildings that would house a career and technical education school for high school students, a community college and university programming as well as Oceanside High School, itself is a combination of Georges Valley High School and Rockland District High School. The school would serve not only high school students in the six-town RSU, but also students from 13 other towns in the area that now send students to a vocational school for some courses. This means high school students could begin working toward associate or bachelor’s degree while finishing high school.

The vocational, community college and university programs also would be available to any community member.

Hinsey and supporters argue that although the project is costly, it will save taxpayers money in the long run.

“By doing an integrated approach like this, we will certainly create a lot of efficiency,” Hinsey said in a phone interview Sunday. “It is a wise investment for the state. There will be deficits, but it’s an investment.”

Before the state budget proposal, RSU 13 Superintendent Judith Lucarelli predicted 2013 to be the fastest the new building could be in use. The timetable is dependent on funding, voting in the 19 towns that would be served by the higher-education programs, and construction time.

Now the timeline is less clear. Hinsey, who heads the Many Flags One Campus Foundation, a nonprofit that supports the project, said supporters will not rest on their laurels and wait for a new state budget.

“We never wait,” Hinsey said. “We’ve been selected and we’ve been recognized by the LePage administration and they gave us a budget line. Our new motto is, ‘It’s not if, it’s when.’”

The foundation plans to start fundraising. If it raises enough money, planning work and the process of selecting a building site can begin before the state commits to the $70 million price tag. But without some commitment from the state, it’s difficult.

“Whenever we talk to business leaders, political leaders, education reformers, [the project] resonates so completely with them,” Hinsey said. “But even minimal commitment from the state is important; then donors will step up.”

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