July 1, 2008

Rangeley’s School Union in Tough Spot

By Eileen M. Adams

RANGELEY - Phil Richardson believes his school union, as well as many other small, rural school systems, is between a rock and a hard place.

But that doesn't mean he isn't striving to meet the letter of the law that mandates some sort of consolidation plan to serve students in such districts.

"We will conduct due diligence to bring a plan before voters," he said from his home Monday afternoon. "We'll do our best to bring the best plan we can do."

Richardson, superintendent of Union 37, which comprises Rangeley and five surrounding plantations with a total pupil enrollment of 227, said he and SAD 44 Superintendent David Murphy met recently to discuss their similar predicaments.

SAD 44, with about 800 students, including those sent from nearby unorganized territories, has been searching for a partner for months.

Richardson said that under state law, a decision will have to be made on whether to count the students sent from unorganized territories as part of the overall student count. Without the students, he said the total in SAD 44 and Union 37 would be fewer than 1,000, the lowest figure allowed under state law.

Richardson said he and SAD 44 are looking to gain a so-called alternative organizational structure.

"The big issue with an AOS is how a budget would be done," he said.

He and Murphy met with Department of Education Commissioner Susan Gendron a couple of weeks ago to discuss the possibility.

Rangeley is also looking toward nearby SAD 58, based in the Salem/ Phillips/Kingfield area.

"I have spoken with (Superintendent) Quenten Clark," he said.

SAD 58 has been working on a reorganizational plan with SAD 9 in Farmington. But, if that should fall through, Richardson said a possible administrative merger with SAD 58 may be feasible.

He and Murphy plan to meet with Clark soon to begin discussions.

Murphy, who could only be reached by e-mail on Monday, said he plans to meet with Richardson next week and that he would know more about his district's plans by the end of that week.

Richardson said he plans to meet with Gendron as soon as he has a plan to present. The deadline for a vote in regional school units is Jan. 30, 2009.

Time must be scheduled for public hearings prior to the vote.

Richardson said he also must have a backup plan in place, in case a proposed merger doesn't fly.

As soon as Richardson has met with Murphy and Clark, he said his planning committees will meet again to continue reorganizational work. That is expected by the end of August.

Meanwhile, state Department of Education spokesmen have announced that nearly two dozen regional school units have been approved.

SADs 43, 21 and 39 have presented a plan to the commissioner and a vote on it is scheduled for Nov. 4.

SAD 39, based in Buckfield, also is looking to its neighbor, SAD 17, for a possible partnership.

Originally published by Staff Writer.

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