MILLINOCKET, Maine – Instead of renovating Schenck High School for several million dollars, East Millinocket residents should send their students to Millinocket schools in September for $1.5 million, Millinocket school Superintendent Kenneth Smith said Friday.
The proposal comes with free bus transportation and would include East Millinocket students at Northern Penobscot Tech-Region III of Lincoln. It was mailed Wednesday, Smith said.
Smith said he hopes officials from AOS 66, which serves East Millinocket, Medway and Woodville, respond favorably. Medway School Committee Vice-Chairman Greg Stanley received a similar tuition proposal upon requesting it in June, but never responded to the offer, Smith said.
East Millinocket residents “are going through some difficult financial times and I think the feeling is that [both towns’ residents] could both be better off if we did this,” Smith said Friday. “It is not essential on our part, but it gives them something to think about and hopefully they would consider it.”
“In their case, it is a financial issue,” he added.
East Millinocket School Committee Chairman Daniel Byron did not return a message left Friday. AOS 66 Superintendent Quenten Clark said he has not yet reviewed the one-page proposal, but expects that East Millinocket committee members will discuss it Tuesday.
Schenck High School and Opal Myrick School, which is in a wing of the East Millinocket building, need several million dollars of repairs over the next few years, AOS 66 officials have said.
Repairing the building’s roof is slated to cost $1.8 million. School leaders called a joint meeting Jan. 8 to determine what residents wanted to do with the 56-year-old building, which needs several million dollars in repairs in addition to the roof. The meeting allowed Clark to discuss the hard math involved if the issue goes to referendum as expected.
East Millinocket taxes could rise four to eight mills if taxpayers pay the several million dollars required, said Clark. State aid could shave about $700,000 of that cost, but state officials have said aid is unlikely, given the fiscal crunch state government faces.
About 75 residents who attended the meeting said they wanted to explore repairing Schenck rather than tuitioning town students elsewhere, though some town leaders later expressed doubts that those residents represented a fair sampling of town wishes.
The local or town education appropriation of taxes set aside to operate town schools this year is $4.17 million, according to the tax assessment warrant town leaders approved in November.
Relations between Millinocket and AOS 66 leaders have been contentious at times. Since the state’s new school consolidation law went into effect, attempts to turn the four towns to a single school system or administration have twice failed since 2009. AOS 66 was formed in 2011.
The four towns’ school administrations were consolidated under Superintendent Sara Alberts from 2004 until she retired in 2009. Since then, East Millinocket, Medway and Woodville leaders have combined some arts programs and some administrative functions with Millinocket, but no longer offer combined sports programs or academics, Smith said.
An offer Millinocket made to allow Schenck High School students to participate in football at Stearns in exchange for allowing Millinocket students to play on the soccer team at Schenck was rejected, Smith said.
Stearns has about 540 middle and high school students and a capacity for 800. Smith didn’t have handy enrollment figures for Granite Street School, which houses elementary school students, but said it had “plenty of room.” AOS 66’s fifth- to eighth-grade students attend Medway Middle School.
Smith said he hopes that any contentiousness among the towns’ leaders has faded.
“My feeling is, times have changed. People are facing some very difficult financial times. They haven’t been nearly as serious as they are now,” Smith said, “so it would seem to be a golden opportunity to do something, but I am aware of history too.”
“I am very positive about the proposal we made. I think it is an excellent financial offer,” he added. “If they analyze it carefully, they will think it is a very positive proposal, but we will wait and see what happens.”