HOLDEN, Maine — A disagreement over wording of a nonexclusive contract between SAD 63 and Brewer High School to provide secondary education to the district’s high school-age students caused such an uproar last week that the entire contract was rejected.
The unanimous SAD 63 vote to throw out the contract means there is no way the district will be able to avoid a $185,000 state penalty — the second in two years — for not consolidating under the 2007 state law, Superintendent David Anderson said Monday.
“I think our board voted their conscience,” he said.
SAD 63 was hit with a $178,000 penalty last year for failing to consolidate.
But the failure to come to an agreement over the nonexclusive secondary contract “changes nothing” for the students, Brewer Superintendent Daniel Lee said Monday. “SAD 63 students can still come here.”
He said the only downside is the hefty penalty for SAD 63, which includes the towns of Holden, Eddington and Clifton.
The draft 10-year contract with Brewer was modeled after one created by Mount Desert Island Regional School System and its sending communities and would have allowed Brewer to charge its sending districts for a portion of debt service associated with money borrowed for improvements at Brewer High School.
Residents in Dedham and Orrington, who recently formed a prekindergarten through eighth-grade alternative organizational structure, resoundingly supported the Brewer contract in January to provide secondary education to their high schoolers and by doing so were able to avoid any future penalties.
SAD 63 and CSD 8 also created a pre-kindergarten through eighth grade unit, AOS 81, and need a nonexclusive contract with a public high school to comply with the law and avoid penalties.
The same contract that was endorsed by Dedham and Orrington was given to SAD 63 and CSD 8 in January, Brewer school board Chjairman Mark Farley said.
The SAD 63 board submitted a one-page “Exhibit A” to be appended to the Brewer contract, but Brewer School Committee members decided it was not necessary, Lee said.
“Our board felt that most of this was covered by the school consolidation law,” he said of the matters covered in the exhibit.
For example, two of the nine items in the document deal with school choice, which is guaranteed under the law, Lee said.
Two of the exhibit’s definitions state that the word “number” refers to the number of students attending Brewer High and the word “contract” refers to the contract and the exhibit. Another exhibit item clarified rules for late tuition bill payments by SAD 63, requiring the state education commissioner to pay the tuition and deduct the amount from the school district’s subsidy. Still another item states Brewer can accept noncontract students.
SAD 63 filed the exhibit because “our board was concerned about some of the language” in the contract, Anderson said. He added that the proposed exhibit “did not really change the intent of the contract.”
Brewer’s school board on May 2 unanimously approved the secondary contract with SAD 63, but by a 3-2 vote decided not to endorse the proposed SAD 63 exhibit.
Once the SAD 63 board got the news May 3 that its exhibit was rejected, members voted unanimously — knowing full well they would have to pay a $185,000 penalty — to reject the entire contract, Anderson said. The board also decided not to send the contract to a referendum vote already scheduled for June 14 to coincide with the budget validation vote.
“The SAD 63 board felt without the exhibit attached they were not comfortable,” he said. “We cannot send this on to referendum strictly on the fact we will face a penalty.”
Since the SAD 63 board makes up only a portion of AOS 81, whether the CSD 8 towns of Amherst, Aurora, Great Pond and Osborn will pay a penalty will be determined by the CSD 8 board’s May 18 vote, and, if endorsed, the subsequent June 14 referendum vote.
CSD 8 was penalized by a little less than $15,000 last year and the unit is facing around a $16,000 penalty if a nonexclusive contract with a public high school is not ratified, Anderson said.
Being told to “take it or leave it” is not a negotiation, Anderson said. “I know it was a very difficult decision by our board, but it was a unanimous vote.”