Community that pays thousands more per pupil looks to leave Fort Kent-area school district

Posted Feb. 26, 2014, at 3:47 p.m.

FORT KENT, Maine — The SAD 27 board of directors will sit down with its attorney at a special board meeting Thursday night to consider the effect of a member town’s withdrawal from the district.

A committee representing Winterville Plantation approached SAD 27 earlier this year asking the board to consider its request to leave the district, according to Tim Doak, district superintendent.

“The [local] cost of education per child [from Winterville] is almost double that of the other member towns,” Doak said Wednesday morning. “So on the playing field for funding, they are taking a bigger hit.”

Winterville Plantation is assessed a high state valuation because most of it is on the shores of St. Froid Lake. That waterfront property, while scenic, means the town receives no state funding for education, according to John Martin, SAD 27 board member representing Winterville.

For the 2013-14 fiscal year, Winterville taxpayers contributed $13,809 in local funds per pupil attending school in SAD 27, according to figures supplied by the district’s financial office.

There are 27 students attending district schools from the town.

Elsewhere in SAD 27, the local cost per student is $7,698 in Eagle Lake, $6,045 in St. Francis, $5,326 in Wallagrass, $5,314 in New Canada, $4,438 in St. John Plantation and $3,782 in Fort Kent.

Should Winterville withdraw, Doak said, it is inevitable some costs would shift to other member towns.

How much depends on how many Winterville students attend SAD 27 schools paying tuition and that tuition rate, he said.

The time has come to do something, according to Dale Emery, chairman of the Winterville Plantation Board of Selectmen, who on Wednesday said his town’s share of the SAD 27 budget has risen by $100,000 over the last five years.

“We feel there is a need for change,” Emery said. “Our only choice is to withdraw.”

He anticipates separating from SAD 27 could save his town $75,000 in the first year.

“It comes down to Winterville trying to find a more affordable way to educate their children,” Doak said. “We want to make sure we are doing the right things with the withdrawal process [and] we want both sides to feel good about it.”

According to information on the Maine Department of Education website, the state-assessed tuition rate for SAD 27 elementary students is $7,300 and $9,200 for high school students.

Those figures, Doak said, are subject to negotiation, as are other expenses not covered by the tuition fees including transportation, special education, vocational education and the central office.

“This is going to impact the other towns,” he said. “If the Winterville students are not tuitioned [to SAD 27] it could mean a 9 percent [local funding] increase and we are looking at a 3 percent increase if they do tuition.”

The Winterville committee, Doak said, hopes to have the decision by the start of the 2014-2015 fiscal year on July 1, which he said is a somewhat accelerated pace.

“The withdrawal process usually takes around 18 months,” Doak said. “We don’t want to go too fast.”

Emery said he understands they are asking for a quick decision but said his board would like to see the matter resolved in time for the savings to take effect this coming year.

The special board meeting is set for 6 p.m. Thursday at Fort Kent Community High School.

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