April 06, 2020
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Fort Kent group takes objections to Valley Unified site selection process to court

Morgan Mitchell | BDN
Morgan Mitchell | BDN
The Valley Unified Board of Directors open their meeting with a brief recap of the site selection meeting prior to this one at the Fort Kent Community High School Sept. 24.

FORT KENT, Maine — A group of Fort Kent residents has filed a complaint in Aroostook County Superior Court in Caribou asking a judge to put a temporary stop to the school consolidation process that has been underway for several years in the St. John Valley.

The group of residents, known as Valley United Concerned Citizens, filed the complaint Jan. 8 seeking a review of governmental action through attorney Luke Rossignol of Presque Isle.

At the heart of the complaint is a Valley Unified Site Selection Committee’s decision to recommend a parcel of land in Frenchville as the site of the new proposed regional high school and the Valley Unified Board of Directors’ decision to ratify the Site Selection Committee’s recommendation.

The residents group is also asking the court to vacate the Valley Unified Board’s Dec. 10 decision to ratify and adopt the Site Selection Committee’s recommendation to build on the Frenchville site.

“Plaintiffs, Valley United Concerned Citizens (“VUCC”), are an association of residents and citizen-taxpayers of the Town of Fort Kent, who are acting in this action by and through their designated point-persons, James Pelletier, Joey Ouellette, Ricky Perreault, and Larry Guimond, all of whom are residents and citizen-taxpayers of the Town of Fort Kent,” according to the complaint.

The complaint names five defendants: Valley Unified Regional Service Center, Maine School Administrative District 27, Maine School Administrative District 33, Madawaska School Department and the Maine Department of Education.

The group claims there are several issues with the site selection process, namely that a matrix used to determine the site was changed during the process in a way that favored the Frenchville site over one in Fort Kent; that the VU board included administrators from each of the three school administrative units who combined to form Valley Unified; and that several members of the Site Selection Committee felt unduly pressured to vote in favor of the Frenchville site.

The executive director of the Valley Unified Board is Ben Sirois, who also serves as superintendent of all three school units.

At a Dec. 10 meeting of the Valley Unified board, and prior to ratifying the site selection committee’s recommendation, the board voted unanimously that a conflict of interest existed and that each of the administrative members of the Valley Unified Board should be replaced with new members from the school boards.

But even after that vote, the Valley Unified Board, including those three administrators, voted to ratify the Site Selection Committee’s recommendation of the Frenchville site.

“During the Site Selection Process, the Executive Director/Superintendent acted as an advocate for the selection of the Frenchville site location, and failed to respond to concerns raised by, and information provided by, the SAD 27 members of the Site Selection Committee,” according to the complaint.

The group claims that the SAD 27 members of the committee were concerned the Site Selection Committee was not given enough time to consider all of the criteria before a vote was called, that a new member of the committee who was not present for the other parts of the process also participated in the vote and that the engineering firm involved in the the site selection process had a conflict of interest because it also would be involved in designing the new school.

“During the Site Selection Process, the members of the Site Selection Committee who represented SAD 27 raised concerns and objected to the changes to the site selection criteria and the matrix, and attempted to provide information relevant to their concerns, but their objections were overruled and the information they attempted to submit was not considered by the Site Selection Committee,” according to the complaint.

The Valley United Concerned Citizens Group is also asking the court to order the VU Site Selection Committee to reconvene and consider the original matrix criteria “without exclusion of any criteria and factors in the matrix which are favorable to the Fort Kent site location,” and for Valley Unified to “reconstitute its Board membership with members who do not have a conflict of interest.”

The group is also seeking attorney fees.

A nonbinding straw poll to gauge citizen support for the consolidated school project is scheduled to take place in February, although it is unclear whether the straw poll will take place.

Neither Sirois nor Rossignol were immediately available for comment.

 


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