BANCROFT, Maine — A bill that has moved through the Legislature with little to no opposition from the 60 residents that it will impact could eventually turn Bancroft from a community into an unorganized territory.
LD 1280, An Act Authorizing the Deorganization of the Town of Bancroft, was sponsored by Sen. Roger Sherman, R-Houlton. If enacted, it would allow the rural Aroostook County community, population 60, to become the 41st town to deorganize in the past 100 years, according to statistics provided by the State Commission on Municipal Deorganization.
The bill is currently sitting on the special appropriations table pending enactment. Bills sent to that table generally have received all but final enactment, pending approval of the fiscal note attached to each bill. A fiscal note is attached anytime a bill affects the state’s budget.
After it is enacted, the bill still has to be approved by the community via referendum vote during the next statewide election in November. It must be approved by at least a two thirds majority of 50 percent of the voters who cast ballots in the last gubernatorial election.
Sherman said in a recent interview that he was approached by the townspeople to draft the bill for several reasons, mainly due to the decreasing population and the high taxes that residents must pay for education.
“They came to me about it more than a year ago and I met with them for a meeting in their community,” said Sherman. “Only about 17 or 18 people came. They were all in favor of deorganizing.”
If voters approve the measure, Bancroft would no longer be part of the southern Aroostook County educational system effective July 1, 2015. As part of the deal, prekindergarten to fifth-grade pupils in the town are entitled to attend school in Kingman Township; all sixth-grade to eighth-grade pupils are entitled to attend school within SAD 30 in Lee in Penobscot County; and all ninth-grade to 12th-grade pupils are entitled to attend Lee Academy. All pupils requiring special education services can do so under the direction of the director of special education for the Division of State Schools — Education in Unorganized Territory.
Pupils must be provided transportation at state expense to those schools. Prior approval by the Director of State Schools — Education in Unorganized Territory and the approval of tuition by the commissioner of education are required for a pupil to attend a school other than in those areas.
Mary Ballanger, a resident and chair of the deorganization committee, testified during a public hearing on the bill. She said that town meetings generally only attract 10 to 12 people each year, with five people being elected officials such as the town clerk and treasurer. She added that the town has a difficult time finding residents to serve as selectmen or school board members. In the past, they have had one school board member who was elected on paper only, she said, because the individual never showed up to the meetings.
One school board member also acts as the deputy registrar of voters and the other acts as the town clerk/treasurer/tax collector.
Marcia McInnis, fiscal administrator of the Unorganized Territory and chair of the state commission on deorganization, told the Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee that the state had reviewed Bancroft’s application for deorganization and had found it complete. She added that there are currently 20 school-age children living in the community who would need to find schooling in another district.