Lack of Chinese students ‘major discouragement’ at Stearns

Posted Aug. 11, 2011, at 8:24 p.m.

MILLINOCKET, Maine — It looks now as if a recruiter’s unfulfilled promises will leave the Millinocket School Department’s new international program with six high school-age Chinese students instead of 60, Superintendent Kenneth Smith said Thursday.

“We are not going to get the 60 that the one guy promised us repeatedly for a year. In fact, he isn’t going to send one student and that is a major discouragement. However, we are going to get students from other recruiters, but it will be a much smaller number,” Smith said.

And the lack of the revenue anticipated when school leaders agreed to pursue the program forces Smith to hope that leaving open school positions unfilled, and savings expected with Stearns High School’s new heating system, will prevent layoffs or program cuts, he said.

“We are trying to retain all positions that we possibly can because they are needed,” Smith said.

The budget reconfiguration process will begin with a school committee meeting next Tuesday, he said, adding that as it is early in the school’s fiscal year, which began July 1, school leaders have plenty of time before budget or program cuts will be necessary. No program cuts have occurred or layoff warning slips issued, he said.

With committee Chairman Arnold Hopkins opposing, the committee voted 3-1 in March for a plan under which 60 high school-age Chinese students would attend Stearns and be housed locally, probably at a local hotel the system would lease for two years. Smith was to refine aspects of the plan that seemed vague or incorrectly estimated.

Now those six students will likely be hosted by local families.

The international student program, which school leaders first discussed about 1½ years ago, was expected to earn the school system $24,000 tuition per student, or $1.4 million from 60 students. That would have been enough to cover the program’s expenses and offset most of an enormous tax revenue loss caused by a revaluation of the Katahdin Avenue paper mill.

School leaders had hoped that the recruiter would fulfill his promises in time for a meeting last Tuesday. When he didn’t, the committee cut all ties with him. He was never paid for his efforts on the school system’s behalf, Smith said. He had been recommended by a consultant.

More Chinese could seek enrollment before or during the school year. They would be welcomed if they qualify, Smith said.

Several Maine high school systems and the University of Maine have launched international student programs featuring Chinese high schoolers.

One of the largest programs is at Lee Academy, which draws almost 100 international students annually and just concluded a three-week summer program aimed at recruiting Chinese students for Lee or other Maine high schools or colleges.

Lee Academy’s international student program has run for many years, with Headmaster Bruce Lindberg having made more than a dozen recruiting trips to China and South Korea in search of qualified students since 2007. Smith has visited China once. Lee Academy also has several satellite schools in Asia.

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