Special town meeting to be scheduled on East Millinocket school closure

Posted April 06, 2011, at 7:09 p.m.

EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — School leaders hope to hold by May 1 a special town meeting in which residents will decide whether to close Opal Myrick School, Superintendent Quenten Clark said Wednesday.

Though it was promised two weeks ago, town leaders have yet to set the meeting date, Clark said. That’s probably because they are busy preparing budgets and negotiating a property tax deal with a San Francisco firm interested in buying two Katahdin Region paper mills, including one on Main Street, he said.

“I have been talking to the [Board of] Selectmen trying to figure out when they are having a meeting,” Clark said. “If we don’t get it done before April vacation [the week of April 19], we will have to get it done right after.”

Calls to town Administrative Assistant Shirley Tapley and Mark Scally, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, were not returned Tuesday or Wednesday.

The East Millinocket school committee voted 5-0 during a special meeting on March 23 to close the school, citing the school’s age and the expense of operating it.

Committee members said they were forced to close the school because even if the mill is sold to Meriturn Partners, and the mill’s approximately 450 jobs are preserved, the reduction Meriturn seeks in the mill’s valuation would mean a massive cut in town and school funding.

The committee has no legal obligation to hold the town meeting. Members have said that doing so would ensure that the closure has public approval and possibly prevent a successful petition drive to keep the school open that would force additional school meetings and severely limit their ability to put together a budget.

Teachers and school workers unions are helping the budget process move along efficiently. They were due to vote on a new contract proposal Wednesday night, Clark said.

Clark said he hoped the town meeting would coincide with a meeting selectmen want to have on the Meriturn property tax negotiations, which are ongoing.

“The two are pretty well related,” he said.

Millinocket and East Millinocket leaders met in Millinocket on Tuesday night in executive session to discuss the negotiations. Attendees had no comment on the meeting.

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