Valley Unified Regional Service Center board members take a vote during their meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. Credit: Jessica Potila | SJVT

MADAWASKA, Maine — The Valley Unified Board of Directors removed three administrators from their positions on the board during Tuesday’s meeting due to potential conflicts of interest. The three will be replaced by elected school board members — one each from the three school units that make up Valley Unified.

Joined under the umbrella of the Valley Unified Educational Service Center, the three school administrative units of MSADs 27, 33 and the Madawaska School Department have worked together to address the declining enrollment and rising costs in education.

In 2018, the state authorized funding the Valley Unified effort up to $100 million for a new St. John Valley educational facility that would replace three high schools and serve students from Grand Isle to Allagash.

Residents of the member communities will need to vote to approve the final project as well as conduct nonbinding straw polls, and the Maine Department of Education will need to OK plans moving forward.

After more than a year in the making, the Valley Unified Board of Directors changed the makeup of its board, after issues surrounding a conflict of interest arose during its Dec. 10 meeting. The board voted to ratify and adopt the Site Selection Committee’s recommended site in Frenchville for the new school in that same meeting.

Superintendent for Valley Unified Benjamin Sirois said the decision to make the change in the board became official that night.

“Although I believe the administrators would have served their individual districts without bias, I understand that the residents of Valley Unified communities deserve to have elected officials serving the interests of their districts and communities,” Sirois said. “This is a good change for Valley Unified.”

Since that meeting, a group calling itself Valley United Citizens filed a legal complaint Jan. 8 in Aroostook County Superior Court to stop the Valley Unified process until the actions that led to this point can be reviewed. The group is 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.

In the complaint, the group mentions the Dec. 10 meeting and cites the conflict of interest the board brought up prior to the vote to ratify the recommendation as one of the reasons for the complaint.

“Notwithstanding the identification of the conflict of interest of the three sitting … members, [the board] then proceeded to take a vote on the Site Selection Committee’s recommendation of the Frenchville site location,” the complaint read.

The original make-up of the Valley Unified Board of Directors included three members from each school administrative unit — one administrator and two school committee members. During Tuesday’s meeting, the board voted to remove, and then removed, the administrators. The out-going administrators participated in the vote.

During the February regular board meetings of the Madawaska School Department on Feb. 3, MSAD33 on Feb. 9 and MSAD27 on Feb. 23, each individual board will appoint a third representative to serve on the Valley Unified Board.

While there will be a meeting to read the results of the straw polls Feb. 13, there will not be any action taken that night, Sirois said. The new members will be on the board in time for the Valley Unified Board meeting on Feb. 26 at the Fort Kent Community High School.