EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Town leaders’ procedural errors will force a two-month delay on a referendum vote originally set for April 25 concerning the repair of Schenck High School’s roof, officials said Tuesday.
The failure of members of the East Millinocket School Committee, town budget committee and board of selectmen to state on the referendum warrant article whether they support, oppose or take no position on the $2.1 million roof repair project has forced the restart of the process, AOS 66 Superintendent Quenten Clark said.
Clint Linscott, chairman of the board of selectmen, called the error the product of a rushed process that no one had time to thoroughly review.
“Not even the school board voted on it,” Linscott said Tuesday.
The school board discussed the issue at length on Tuesday night, but its vote deadlocked in a 2-2 tie. Chairman Dan Byron and school committee member Jennifer Murray voted against the project and members Angel Danforth and Ryan Whitehouse voted for it.
Member Mark Wallace was absent. Byron said the board will vote on the issue again with Wallace in attendance. Linscott agreed to wait until Wallace could vote.
Referendums require a 45-day waiting period under state law, so there is no great hurry, Linscott said.
A public hearing on the project at the high school set for Wednesday will take place, but as an informational session, Clark said.
The $2.1 million proposal calls for installing R-38 roof insulation, a new gymnasium floor, new emergency and exit lights, audio-visual fire alarms, repairing gym wall cracks and remodeling bathrooms and drinking fountains to meet the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
The Maine Department of Education will pay about $636,000 of the $2.1 million.
The building serves about 280 students from East Millinocket, Medway and Woodville, including Opal Myrick Elementary School, which moved into a wing in 2011. The referendum is expected to chart the course of the school’s future against several challenges, Linscott has said.
Among the challenges are the declining population — school-age and general — of the Katahdin region and rising education costs. In addition, state aid and the local tax base continue to decrease. Clark has said that the town’s school population has declined 55 percent since 1995.
Clark previously said the roof repair would likely raise the town’s 23.33 mill rate at least 1.1 mills — or $54 in property tax annually on a home worth $50,000.
No one appears to inherently desire the school’s closure. Residents have been almost unanimous in saying that the school should remain open, describing its staff and educational offerings as excellent and its place in the community as vital.
They have said that the town would lose a key portion of its allure to young families, its identity without Schenck and Myrick, and that sending students elsewhere would unduly burden parents.
But others have said that they fear the increased tax burden will prove unaffordable, especially with a $300,000 school budget increase proposed for the 2013-14 school year and sharp state aid declines expected in Gov. Paul LePage’s budget.
Opponents also question the school’s long-term future given the population declines, the area’s increasing elderly population, and a stagnant Katahdin region economy, which typically has unemployment rates twice the state average.
The referendum delay, Clark said, might be a good thing. By June, the state budget will be closer to being made final, he said.
Most school board members have seemed to support the roof repair. Murray has not, fearing its costs, but said she would support it if most residents seemed to.
Linscott said he would not favor holding the referendum if the school board, budget committee and selectmen oppose the roof repair, but would hold one if school board members supported a referendum.