Town officials don’t expect Katahdin region school consolidation this year

Posted June 08, 2013, at 3:13 p.m.
Last modified June 09, 2013, at 6:40 p.m.
Millinocket School Committee members [left to right] Arnold Hopkins, Warren Steward and Chairman Kevin Gregory listen to Superintendent Kenneth Smith during a school board meeting at Stearns High School on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013.
Millinocket School Committee members [left to right] Arnold Hopkins, Warren Steward and Chairman Kevin Gregory listen to Superintendent Kenneth Smith during a school board meeting at Stearns High School on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013.

EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Most efforts to enhance combined offerings between East Millinocket and Millinocket schools probably won’t be realized until September 2014 at the earliest, officials said Saturday.

East Millinocket Superintendent Quenten Clark, Millinocket Superintendent Kenneth Smith and the chairmen of the towns’ school committees met last week to discuss increasing joint efforts between East Millinocket and Millinocket, but nothing substantial was decided, Smith said.

“This is the intensely busy season in school enrollment and with budgets,” Clark said. “We’re coming up on a quieter season. I expect we will meet over the summer and talk about things.”

The towns’ school and municipal budgets are not finalized, but East Millinocket and Millinocket officials have warned residents that tax increases are possible. Medway officials have delayed their budget process several months to allow state budgets to be finalized.

During a joint meeting on May 15, the East Millinocket and Millinocket school boards directed school officials to investigate increasing joint efforts cautiously, in mind of the stormy history of the two boards, with an eye toward saving money, increasing school efficiency or bolstering class sizes. School consolidation or the tuitioning of East Millinocket students to Millinocket could be the end result.

Some of their desires will be realized immediately, Clark said.

The East Millinocket school committee has funded the combined show choir effort between Schenck and Stearns high schools for 2013-14, and dual enrollment classes between the town and Millinocket high schools could start in September 2013 if students express interest, Clark said.

The athletic directors of both schools will survey students next fall to determine their interest in having both schools combine sports teams or athletic efforts, Smith said.

“We have agreed that we will try to see what we can do about combined teams,” Smith said.

But efforts requiring more complex negotiations, such as the combination of sports teams, will take longer than that, Clark said. Clark has also contacted leaders of the Lincoln area school system, RSU 67, to field any consolidation or tuition offers they might wish to make, he said.

Smith said he believed more joint school efforts could occur quickly, but both sides agreed to move slowly. The Maine Principals’ Association, which governs interscholastic sports, also has a somewhat involved process that must be followed including the survey, Smith said.

“I think a lot of things could happen quickly if [the school boards] wanted them to,” Smith said. “I would agree that there isn’t any hurry given the fact that they want to move slowly, so if that is the case, it makes more sense to spend the time putting this thing together with the principals’ association. There are some fundamental questions that have to be answered for the principals’l association.”

Voters and residents must also give the boards guidance. The school and municipal budgets in the two towns are still being assembled and have yet to be approved by residents. Also, East Millinocket voters will decide in a special election on July 18 whether to repair the roof of Schenck High and Opal Myrick Elementary schools for about $1.87 million.

Members of both towns’ schools have intermittently pushed consolidation since the 1990s, but voters have several times previously rejected attempts to consolidate schools.

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