FORT KENT, Maine — It’s too late to go back to the drawing board after Allagash’s SAD 10 residents on Tuesday voted down a proposed plan to create an Alternative Organizational Structure with SAD 27 in accordance with the state’s school consolidation law.
With the Jan. 30 deadline to comply with the law looming, the proposed AOS is dead as a result of the Allagash vote even though every community in SAD 27 voted for the plan.
“This is a disaster for SAD 27,” Don Guimond, Fort Kent’s town manager, said after the results were known Tuesday night. “The students will be the ones affected by the penalties that will be imposed.”
Under the law’s penalty formula, SAD 27 stands to take a $170,000 hit. SAD 10 is looking at a $6,000 penalty.
In a November referendum voters turned down a proposed AOS combining SAD 10, Alla-gash; SAD 27, Fort Kent; SAD 33, St. Agatha; SAD 24, Van Bu-ren; and the Madawaska School Department into one administrative unit.
Now all the St. John Valley school districts are facing substantial financial penalties.
Under the law, the 298 Maine school districts have until July 1 to reorganize into 88 larger, regional units to streamline operations and reduce costs.
Earlier this month, Maine Education Commissioner Susan Gendron approved the AOS combining SAD 10 and SAD 27.
Allagash sends its students to elementary and high school in Fort Kent since the town’s one school closed because of declining enrollment.
District superintendents had pointed out the AOS plan would be business as usual with a few administrative changes.
But the plan failed to convince a majority of the SAD 10 voters in Allagash, where it fell 43-26.
In SAD 27, the AOS proposal carried in every town by wide margins: Fort Kent, 174 yes, 7 no; St. Francis, 30 yes, 2 no; St. John Plantation, 19 yes, 0 no; Wallagrass, 17 yes, 0 no; Eagle Lake 18 yes, 3 no; New Canada, 12 yes, 0 no; and Winterville, 10 yes, 1 no.
“With the Jan. 30 deadline so close, we can’t go back and reinvent the wheel,” Guimond said. “We can ask the commissioner [of education] if SAD 27 can go it alone as an AOS.”
The district may have another option. At least one piece of legislation has been introduced in Augusta that would delay imposing any penalties for a year to give districts that voted for consolidation time to develop an alternate plan.
“School restructuring was supposed to be a positive thing,” Guimond said. “But it’s having a real negative impact on the St. John Valley.”