ELLSWORTH, Maine — During the next month, three Hancock County communities will begin the process of forming new school districts by electing new school boards. In a November election, the communities of Ellsworth, Lamoine and Hancock voted to withdraw from Regional School Unit 24, which currently represents 12 communities in the area, and form their own, independent school districts.
Lamoine and Hancock will vote in new school boards on Tuesday, Jan. 7, while Ellsworth will hold its school board election on Tuesday, Feb. 4.
Once the school boards are in place, members will have to search for and hire new superintendents and determine new budgets in time for the official start of the 2014-15 school year on July 1.
The city of Ellsworth has hired Jack Turcotte, who previously served as superintendent for Ellsworth and Sanford and as town manager for Old Orchard Beach, to help with the transition.
“You name it and I guess its on my plate,” Turcotte said cheerfully of his new role. “Probably the most important task that I’ve addressed so far is preparing for a superintendent search.”
Turcotte will not be conducting the search, but already has begun to make sure the necessary steps are taken to get a proper search done. The district will begin accepting applications as early as this week, and Turcotte hopes to be able to present the new school board with candidates soon after the members are elected.
He anticipates a superintendent might not be selected for Ellsworth until mid-April.
Turcotte said he also has been gathering data and meeting with the principals of Ellsworth’s schools in order to figure out how to staff a new central office. He will make recommendations to the new school board about how many staff members should be hired for financial management, curriculum development and other tasks that the district will need to administer.
“We’ve been able to have some very open and meaningful conversations on how a new school department would look,” said Renee Thompson, principal of Ellsworth High School.
“Our community wants this,” she said. “We have the responsibility to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work.”
Some candidates for school board are running uncontested, while others face competition.
In Lamoine, Brett Jones, that town’s current representative on the RSU 24 school board, and Gordon Donaldson, a former principal of Ellsworth High School who was active in the withdrawal process, are running uncontested for two- and three-year terms, respectively.
Michael Brann and Gregory Stone are both running for the one-year term.
In Hancock, Beverly Johnston and Sarah Baker are each running uncontested for the one- and three- year terms, respectively.
Melissa Nowell and Lona Wheeler are running against each other for the two-year seat.
Eight people running for five available seats on Ellsworth’s new school board. They include Dawn Hudson, Marsha Boles Jude, Paul Markosian, Brenda Thomas, Russell White, Heather Bird, Andrea Perry and Darren Richardson.
In Ellsworth, the length of each board member’s term will be determined by how many votes that board member receives. The two candidates with the most votes will serve three-year terms. The two candidates who are next in line will serve two-year terms, and there will be one candidate who will serve a one-year term. Absentee ballots were accepted as of Jan. 6 at Ellsworth’s city hall.
RSU 24 will live on, although the school district’s student population will be cut in half. The remaining towns in the RSU are Winter Harbor, Mariaville, Waltham, Eastbrook, Franklin, Steuben, Gouldsboro, Sullivan and Sorrento.
Students will not be forced to transfer schools in the 2014-15 school year as a result of the withdrawals, according to each of the municipalities’ withdrawal agreements with the RSU. The withdrawal agreements also state that teacher and staff contracts will be honored during the new school districts’ first year.