NEWPORT, Maine — Members of the SAD 46 facilities committee hoped a discussion in June with their RSU 19 counterparts from Newport would shed some light on the possibility of the two school units consolidating to establish a comprehensive high school.
But the meeting between the two committees and three state Department of Education officials failed to provide any new details.
The two school units began informal discussions earlier in the year after RSU 19 received notification it had two projects placed on the state’s Major Capital Improvement Program priority list for state funding.
This provided RSU 19 the opportunity to replace its 70-year-old Newport Elementary School and 44-year-old Nokomis Regional High School.
RSU 19 has seen the state funding as a means to build the only comprehensive high school in the region.
Maine has four such facilities, which integrate a student’s academic and technical education all within one facility. Nokomis is a part of the Tri-County Technical Center in Dexter, which is the host school for technical education for five area high schools.
In order for the new Nokomis Regional High School to become a comprehensive high school, it would either need to consolidate with SAD 46 or have legislative approval to change the law, which designates the Dexter location as the region’s technical educational center.
SAD 46 officials are also interested in replacing their 41-year-old Dexter Regional High School. District officials believe the only way it will receive state funding for a new school is to consolidate with another school district.
The preliminary discussions between the two school units have centered on where the comprehensive high school would be located, what would happen to Dexter Regional High School and how it would affect the other Tri-County Technical Center members. The meeting included members from the two districts’ facilities committees, state Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen, School Construction Team Coordinator Scott Brown and former RSU 19 and current state Board of Education member Marilyn Tardy.
This was the third meeting between RSU 19 and SAD 46. RSU 19 officials indicated it preferred to construct the comprehensive high school on property it already owns surrounding the Nokomis campus.
Officials of RSU 19 estimated it owns nearly 200 acres at the site. SAD 46 officials preferred the new school to be in a more centralized location such as north of downtown Corinna leading toward the Dexter town line.
“We don’t think we came out with any more answers than we did going in,” said Superintendent Kevin Jordan as he updated SAD 46 board on July 11. “I think everybody’s defenses kind of went up a little bit when we started talking about possible sites.”
Besides considering consolidating in a comprehensive high school at Newport, the board members also discussed refurbishing Dexter Regional High School and Tri-County Technical Center by transforming those facilities into a grade 9-12 regional technical education program. RSU 19 and SAD 46 nonvocational students would attend high school at the new consolidated high school and the Tri-County Technical Center membership schools would send their students to Dexter.
Jordan indicated the state officials were reluctant to embrace that proposal. The Department of Education has never diverted funds from one project to renovate a building in a different district. Bowen believed that option would not work based on how the department has awarded funds in the past.
“I didn’t get the feeling that Commissioner Bowen was in favor of that option,” Jordan said. “The state would probably receive complaints from other school districts rated below RSU 19 wondering why money was being spent on a school that didn’t make the funding list.”
If the two districts decide not to consolidate, RSU 19 officials have indicated they intend to provide satellite technical school programs at the new Nokomis campus. The programs will be ones not offered at Tri-County Technical Center and would be open to all of the technical center’s students.
The school officials plan on meeting again, but so far have not set a date. The Department of Education has not set a timetable for RSU 19 to decide on whether it wants to consolidate or build a new school on its own.