EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Jodi Helsor went into the Sunrise Peak School District public hearing Tuesday ready to dislike the committee’s plan to combine the Katahdin region’s public schools.
The plan, the East Millinocket resident felt, was forced upon the state by the Legislature and Maine Department of Education. That’s an insult to East Millinocket, Medway and Millinocket, communities that pride themselves on their independence and fine schools.
Helsor left the meeting with feelings unchanged, but supporting the plan.
“As bad as I hate to be told what to do, I think we should vote for this. We have to swallow our pride,” Helsor said, calling the committee plan the best possible option. “It isn’t about pride at this point. It’s about coming together and being leaders.”
The reorganization referendum is set for Jan. 27. Failure to pass a plan by July 1, committee members warned, would lead to state-imposed fines. All state-approved school reorganization plans are available at maine.gov/education/reorg/plansandresponses.html.
As happened at organizational committee hearings in Medway and Millinocket last week, residents — almost 50 attended — complained about a lack of a state funding formula that would divide education money among the three towns.
Some who attended, including Medway School Committee Chairman Greg Stanley — who spoke with committee permission — argued that it would be less costly and inconvenient to accept the state-imposed fines.
He disputed committee claims that under the alternative organizational structure plan, school leadership would not change. Under the proposed Sunrise Peak Alternative Organizational Structure, East Millinocket, Medway and Millinocket residents would have committees running their schools, with each committee naming three members to an AOS board and one superintendent supervising the schools.
Committee members say that’s essentially how the schools operate now through Union 113, except that Woodville would tuition students to Lincoln-area schools or keep them at Sunrise.
But the AOS board would have some powers, Stanley claimed, that the Union 113 board lacks.
Under the plan, no school closings are planned next year. And, with board membership divided equally, no town would have an inherent advantage over the others. The AOS also likely would accelerate cost-savings initiatives created through the regionalization efforts already begun. That includes greater savings and aid provided to special needs students; increased student access to programming available regionwide, such as sports and arts programs; and the benefits of increased combinations of administrative and teaching staffs.
Katahdin region leaders said they expect the vote will be close.