February 19, 2019
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SAU 31 prepares to put $1.1M loan request before voters

HOWLAND, Maine — SAU 31 leaders will meet Tuesday to act on whether to allow voters to decide whether the district should accept a $1.1 million loan to offset a deficit that threatens school operations, the board’s chairwoman said Friday.

The 6 p.m. meeting at Hichborn Middle School in Howland is one of three crucial to the loan acceptance process and keeping the school system operating, Chairwoman Pam Hatch of Enfield said. The board will meet in the Hichborn library in public hearings on Jan. 9-10. A special systemwide referendum is set for Jan. 24, she said.

“It is our best hope to keep the kids in the district and pay our loans,” Hatch said Friday of the loan. “The loan is a good one with only a 2 percent interest rate. I don’t know of anyplace where you can get 2 percent interest.”

The school district, which serves Burlington, Edinburg, Enfield, Howland, Maxfield and Passadumkeag, sought the Maine Municipal Bond Bank bond to cover a $1.2 million deficit created partly by faulty budget practices and insufficient board oversight.

Superintendent Michael Wright discovered the problems shortly after his SAU 41 consolidated with the district on July 1. A review of SAU 31’s records revealed, he said, that school leaders gradually had created the deficit by projecting revenues from undesignated fund balances that never actually occurred.

The bond bank’s executive director, Robert O. Lenna, credited school leaders with dealing directly and adroitly with the financial miscues when he announced the bank’s tentative award of the loan on Dec. 5. Besides Wright becoming superintendent and the layoff of 14 ed techs and three maintenance workers, the school district has a new business manager and appointed new board leadership.

Hatch encouraged voters within the school administrative unit to come to the meetings, especially the hearings, to get their questions answered.

“There have been a lot of rumors around. People don’t seem to be talking to anybody with information. They seem to be listening to whatever the rumors are,” Hatch said. “It is really hard to get people in rural communities in places where we can talk to them, find out what’s on their minds.

“We would like to make the district whole and we are working very hard on it, though not to the detriment of the kids. There are a lot of things you can do a little cheaper if you look just a little harder at it,” she added.

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