ROCKPORT, Maine — The state’s education commissioner said he does not know when money might be set aside for the proposed Many Flags project that calls for the eventual creation of one midcoast campus, including a high school, vocational school and postsecondary educational facilities.
Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen made his comments Thursday morning after speaking to the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce on education reform in Maine.
Bowen said the Maine Legislature has made it clear that it wants the priority for whatever money the state does have for construction to go to districts “with serious physical needs.”
Once the schools with the greatest needs have received state construction money, the department can look at innovative projects such as Many Flags, the commissioner said. He stressed, however, that he does not know when that might be.
The Legislature approved a bill in 2010 that selected Many Flags as the model innovative school project for the state. That bill, however, was not tied to any funding.
A rough preliminary estimate in June 2007 pegged the cost of a Many Flags complex at $64 million. That would have included a consolidated high school to replace the high schools in Rockland and Thomaston.
Many of the local districts, however, are continuing to work on governance rules for the Many Flags operation. The Five-Town Community School District Board and the Regional School Unit 13 Board both gave final approval a month ago to rules that would govern the organization. The Five-Town CSD oversees the high school that serves Camden, Rockport, Hope, Appleton and Lincolnville. RSU 13 serves Rockland, Thomaston, St. George, Owls Head, South Thomaston and Cushing.
On the same evening, Oct. 4, that the RSU 13 board gave its unanimous backing to the rules, the Regional School Unit 40 Board voted 7-6 to reject the governance plan. RSU 40 includes Medomak Valley High School, which serves students in Waldoboro, Warren, Union, Washington and Friendship.
The opponents to Many Flags on the RSU 40 board said the added costs and an extra layer of administration led them to vote against the plan.
Tori Manzi, a Five-Town CSD board member, tried to assure the RSU 40 Board that the idea of a physical campus is simply a dream right now and that other issues such as common schedules and sharing of services is the more immediate plan.
The RSU 40 Board was scheduled to consider at its meeting Thursday, Nov. 1, whether to continue having representatives attend meetings involving Many Flags. The participation has been requested by Many Flags.
The SAD 8 School Board, which serves Vinalhaven, is scheduled to vote on the Many Flags rules at its Nov. 26 meeting. The board will also be asked to support the selection of an island representative to the new Many Flags Board.
The governance plan had called for RSU 13, RSU 40, the Five-Town CSD and Region 8 vocational district to each have two members on the new Many Flags Board. The community college system, the University of Maine, and the three local Penobscot Bay islands combined (Vinalhaven, North Haven and Islesboro) would each have had one member on the board for a total of 11 board members.