April 26, 2018
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Millinocket to avoid $114K school consolidation fine

By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff

MILLINOCKET, Maine — The School Department will avoid a $114,000 fine for failing to comply with the state’s school consolidation law after officials gave the state a list of cost-saving measures and demonstrated efforts to conform with the law, Superintendent Kenneth Smith said.

Maine Department of Education officials decided that Millinocket would be one of the municipalities whose efforts to comply with the law have failed and yet will not be penalized for it, Smith said.

To avoid the fine, Millinocket officials had to show that their town had been willing to consolidate with other schools, that its voters had approved of a plan to do so, and that the schools already had made considerable efforts to economize, Smith said.

“The big one is that we have to agree that if anybody wants to consolidate with us, we will be perfectly willing do that, and we are,” Smith said Thursday. “We’ve got to have the open-door policy, and I think we have shown that we do.”

Millinocket’s efforts to consolidate with Union 113, the schools of East Millinocket, Medway and Woodville, have failed largely because officials from those towns have declined to mix their political leadership with Millinocket’s, though they remain willing to continue to combine school academic, sports and arts programs.

Some administrative functions also are shared, Smith said, including the use of a joint computer server for both school systems’ business departments.

Other towns, such as Lincoln and Mattawamkeag, have declined to consolidate with Millinocket, citing awkward geography or their already having complied with the consolidation law.

One of the best examples of the success of the systems’ combined efforts will be recognized by the Town Council during its meeting at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday. Councilors will issue proclamations honoring the state champion Unified Harmony Show Choir, which combines students from Stearns High School and East Millinocket’s Schenck High School, and the Millinocket Middle School Show Choir, town officials said.

The fine’s avoidance couldn’t come at a better time for the town. Though the school department is expected to avoid significant budget cuts thanks to its plan to welcome international students from China in September, town government might have to lay off several workers in response to a revenue shrinkage caused by an expected devaluation of the Katahdin Paper Co. LLC mill. Several state towns are pursuing foreign students, as is the University of Maine.

Union 113, meanwhile, faces the possibility of significant budget cuts and layoffs and recently received permission to form an alternative school organization in compliance with the consolidation law.

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