East Millinocket selectman wants to send students to Millinocket, close Schenck High for two years to save money for repairs
EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Selectman Mark Scally wants to explore sending town students to Millinocket for two years to save enough for a $2.1 million repair of Schenck High School that would be a first step toward dramatically reorganizing Katahdin region schools.
Under Scally’s idea, East Millinocket, Medway and Millinocket would maintain school buildings and mix student populations in an unprecedented way, he said.
“The state would look favorably upon us consolidating in this manner. These are tough economic times that call for drastic measures,” Scally said Wednesday.
East Millinocket would be saved from a tax increase that Clint Linscott, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, estimated would jump the town’s 23.33 mill rate to 44 mills in the 2013-14 fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Property tax on a $50,000 property would climb from $1,166 to $2,200 annually with the increase, which Scally called “massive.”
“Solving that will require some sacrifice, but the idea is to keep our schools, have the improvements that are necessary [to Schenck High School] and keep taxes down,” he said.
Under Scally’s idea, Millinocket schools would accept for two years all town students under a tuition proposal Millinocket leaders made in February. Millinocket’s proposal would save East Millinocket $800,000 over two years, officials have said.
Leaders from Medway and Woodville, towns that as a part of AOS 66 send students to Schenck and the wing of the school that houses Opal Myrick Elementary School, would send those students to Millinocket or elsewhere, Scally said.
East Millinocket’s school staff would be laid off for two years, said Scally, a retired East Millinocket music teacher and former president of the town teachers’ union. The laid-off workers would get first claim on their old jobs, Scally said.
“There’s no doubt in my mind this would all be legal,” Scally said. “If we wanted to just say we are closing the school, we could do that, but we don’t. It will take planning and new ideas to keep our schools intact.”
By 2015, East Millinocket would save almost enough to avoid raising taxes significantly to pay for a $2.1 million repair of Schenck. The work would include a new roof, gymnasium floor, new emergency and exit lights and fire alarms, and a remodeling that would meet Americans With Disabilities Act requirements.
Besides the $800,000, the tax savings would be created by diverting funds from a nearly $400,000 account that contains revenue from town tree-cutting operations and about $636,000 that would be the state education department’s portion of the $2.1 million, Scally said.
State government revenue sharing would restart under Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed budget by 2015. Leaders from the four towns could negotiate by then a consolidation that would allow East Millinocket, Medway and Millinocket to retain schools, Scally said.
Under Scally’s proposal, students in grades 9-12 from East Millinocket, Medway, Millinocket and Woodville would attend Stearns High School in Millinocket. What is now Schenck would handle students in grades 5-8 from those towns.
Medway Middle School would handle K-4 students from East Millinocket, Medway and Woodville, and Millinocket’s Granite Street Elementary School would remain unchanged, Scally said.
Scally pitched his idea at a selectmen’s meeting on Monday. He has not discussed it with the other towns’ leaders, he said.
AOS 66 Superintendent Quenten Clark declined to comment on Wednesday. Millinocket School Committee Chairman Kevin Gregory said he was receptive to Scally’s idea, but wanted details.
“The important thing is that we are talking to each other,” Gregory said.
East Millinocket School Committee Chairman Dan Byron said he feared Scally’s idea would lead to a permanent closure of the Schenck building.
“I think it is premature, but I guess I would have to see how we would save that amount of money over a two-year period,” Byron said. “We are working to reduce the budget now.”
“Once we send our kids to another school, I don’t believe Schenck High School would ever reopen,” Byron added. “Why would it? If your kids are going to another school, why would you ever send them back? Once you close it, it is done.”
Linscott said he hoped Scally’s idea will be discussed at a meeting of East Millinocket and Millinocket school leaders. No date for such a meeting is set.
“This gives us the five-year plan that everybody’s been asking for,” Linscott said. “I think it is a great idea, but we have to make sure that we follow it through.”