Midcoast school group has evolved rapidly away from bricks and mortar

Posted Sept. 01, 2014, at 8:12 a.m.
Last modified Sept. 01, 2014, at 3:59 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — A long-dreamed proposal to create a regional campus that would have included a new high school, vocational center, community college and marine trade center has quietly been abandoned as the Many Flags focus has changed to providing services for children and their families.

One of the longtime partners in Many Flags — the Five-Town Community School District in Camden — withdrew two months ago.

Audrey Lovering, the executive director of Many Flags, said Friday she would be making a presentation Thursday night to the Rockland area Regional School Unit 13 Board to update it on the activities of the organization.

“Lot of great stuff happening,” Lovering said.

The origin of the Many Flags effort started more than eight years ago when neighboring school districts based in the Rockland and Thomaston area, along with the vocational center that serves schools from Waldoboro to Islesboro, mulled consolidation.

In 2006, the Maine Department of Education provided a $25,000 planning grant for Many Flags, the first of several grants to what was hoped would lead to the creation of the one campus setting for secondary and post-secondary education.

In June 2007, the Many Flags group came out with a rough estimate of $64 million for the project.

The project gained public support at a straw poll held in November 2007 by a vote of 77-9. At that meeting in Rockland, Peter Geiger of Farmers Almanac fame, who was also chairman of the Maine Coalition of Excellence in Education, voiced strong support for Many Flags.

“This is a phenomenal opportunity to make a statement to students, parents, the business community and the community as a whole,” Geiger said at the meeting.

In 2010, Many Flags applied to the Maine Department of Education to be selected as a model innovative school which could open the project up for state money in the future. After the first round of scoring among applicants was thrown out for irregularities, Many Flags won the second round again over a proposal by Sanford and the Rockland area proposal earned the state designation.

In March 2011, the fundraising arm of Many Flags, the Many Flags Foundation announced it had an option to purchase 205 acres in South Thomaston along Route 131 for the possible unified campus.

That option expired in the fall of 2011 and was not renewed.

Local school officials acknowledged in 2011 that the state had not set aside any money for the creation of Many Flags but expressed hope that at some point the money would be provided to serve a model education system for the state.

As 2012 arrived, Many Flags supporters said that with bricks and mortar unlikely for a while, it would focus on establishing a common schedule among the high schools in the districts participating in the Many Flags planning — Regional School Unit 13 based in Rockland, Regional School Unit 40 based in Waldoboro and the Five-Town Community School District based in Camden as well as the Midcoast School of Technology in Rockland, which was the regional vocational center.

There was another bump in the road when the RSU 40 Board voted in October 2012 to not join a regional board that would oversee the Many Flags development. Medomak Valley High School is in RSU 40. The board reversed its vote in March 2013 and agreed to appoint two members to represent the district on the Many Flags Board.

In January 2013, Many Flags received a $348,000 federal grant to come up with a plan to address challenges faced by children in the community as a way to make them successful in school. The district could then be eligible for up to $6 million per year for three to five years as part of the Promise Neighborhoods program to implement the social, family and health service systems needed to support students.

The Many Flags website states that its goals are professional development for educators, sharing resources amongst school districts and implementing the Promise Neighborhood initiatives. The Many Flags website also links to the Penquis community action program website.

In June 2014, the Five-Town CSD Board voted unanimously to withdraw from active participation in Many Flags.

Five-Town Superintendent Elaine Nutter said last week that while the goals of Many Flags are worthwhile, those goals do not benefit the communities in the five-town district.

She said the staff and board have other needs to focus on rather than Many Flags.

One of the goals of the grant is to start a prekindergarten program in the Rockland area but not the Camden-area communities, she said.

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