“F” grade aside, East Millinocket selectman says pursue merger with Millinocket schools

Posted May 03, 2013, at 4:07 p.m.
Last modified May 04, 2013, at 8:22 a.m.

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Mark Scally, chairman of the East Millinocket Board of Selectmen
NICK SAMBIDES JR. | BDN
Mark Scally, chairman of the East Millinocket Board of Selectmen Buy Photo

EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — State education officials might have temporarily given a Millinocket high school an F, but Selectman Mark Scally still plans to pursue tuitioning town students there, he said Thursday.

“I put the idea out there, and let’s see how it sits with people,” Scally said after an East Millinocket School Committee meeting on Thursday. “I want to see what they have to say.”

Scally wants to explore sending all 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, 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.

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 at the time.

Gov. Paul LePage suggested the new grading system the state has devised for ranking schools, which he sought and is graded on a bell curve, as a means to improve education in Maine, he said.

Millinocket Superintendent Kenneth Smith and several education associations derided the initiative as inaccurate for many reasons, including what they described as its ignorance of poverty and affluence as factors that contribute to student performance and school funding.

In response, LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said that nearly two dozen schools with more than 50 percent of their students on free or reduced lunch earned A’s and B’s under the grading system.

Poverty, she said, does not equate with failure.

Stearns was among six schools statewide that were dropped from the ranking within an hour after the grades were released to the public. Three had received Fs. The rest had been given Cs.

State education officials dropped the schools because their configurations had

changed during the years included in the assessment. Millinocket Middle School was closed in July 2012 and Stearns became a grade seven to 12 school instead of nine to 12, leaving the grades unreflective of the schools as they are now.

The schools of AOS 66, which serves East Millinocket, Medway and Woodville, received C grades from the state, Superintendent Quenten Clark said. At Thursday’s meeting, Clark sought a round of applause for town teachers, saying their efforts and high morale had led to the grade.

School committee members agreed to meet with Millinocket officials as a full board to discuss several items, including the funding of a choir that consists of students from Schenck and Stearns. The tuitioning proposal will also likely be raised, though the meeting’s agenda is not set.

In a meeting that was largely dominated by teachers union members and their families, committee members also agreed to recommend to the Board of Selectmen that the Schenck High School roof repair work and other lesser repairs be pursued if voters approve it in a referendum. Selectmen will meet next week to discuss whether to pursue the referendum or endorse or reject the idea to voters.

Scally’s idea involves laying off the staff at the town’s two schools, Schenck and Opal Myrick Elementary, for two years before rehiring them.

Millinocket Superintendent Kenneth Smith said he and AOS 66 Superintendent Clark had tentatively agreed on a meeting date of May 8 at 6 p.m. No meeting location has been set.

“We are going to the meeting to discuss what they want to discuss. We are in listening mode,” Smith said Friday.

Scally said that his idea “has been kicked around for generations. I just put it back out there.”

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