September 5, 2008

Meetings Set on School Merger

By Eileen M. Adams

PERU - If residents of the 12 towns of SADs 21, 39, 43 and Hanover approve the formation of a new school system Nov. 4, Thursday night's meeting of representatives was the last.

"We'll hope this is the last meeting," SAD 21 Superintendent Tom Ward said.

If any one of the school districts vote down the administrative merger, then chances are many of the same people, and perhaps a few new ones, will have to reconvene and start again, as well as be subject to a financial penalty by the state.

But most believe the proposed plan is a good one that will eventually result in cost savings and additional student offerings. Maybe not the first or second year, but more likely as the new administrative system becomes accustomed to a new way of doing things.

Thursday night's meeting, held at SAD 21's new elementary school in Peru, served to wrap up the plan that has been sent to the Department of Education commissioner, and to prepare brochures, a PowerPoint presentation and to select representatives to attend the series of public hearings set for four nights in October.

The new school system, if approved, will be known as the Western Foothills School District, and will have a total enrollment of just over 3,000 pupils, a number studies have shown that is the most efficient to manage. A new administrative board would have 17 members, with each town having at least one.

Hanover will hold the first public informational meeting at 5 p.m. Oct. 15 at the town office. That will be followed by another at 6 p.m. Oct. 21 at Buckfield Junior-Senior High School, then at 6 p.m. Oct. 22 at Dirigo High School in Dixfield, then wrap up at 6 p.m. Oct. 23 at Mountain Valley High School in Rumford.

Residents may attend any of the informational sessions.

Prior to the those sessions, which will include a PowerPoint presentation showing costs, educational benefits and other data, residents will receive brochures in the mail with much of the same information.

Three of the four units that will become a new merged district, if voters approve, also chose representatives to attend the four public informational sessions. SAD 43 did not choose representatives.

John Madigan, one of the SAD 43 representatives on the committee, plans to take another look at the cost figures for SAD 43 towns under the proposed merger.

SAD 39 Superintendent Rick Colpitts said the state could withhold funding if the districts aren't in compliance with the administrative merger law by Jan. 31, 2009. He also said SADs 21 and 39, and Hanover have no choice but to merge because none have a minimum of 1,200 students. SAD 43 could file for an alternative plan because it has a student enrollment of just under 1,500 students.

But Ward said a turn down of the proposed administrative merger not only could result in the loss of state funding, but also in the loss of the benefits to a merger. Among the changes that would occur is the elimination of two central offices, additional distance learning opportunities, the possibility of providing a prekindergarten program in all districts, and more offerings in the fine arts and gifted and talented programs.

The committee has been meeting for nearly a year, and eventually settling on the plan for SADs 21, 39 and 43, and Hanover.

Originally published by Staff Writer.

(c) 2008 Sun-Journal Lewiston, Me.. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.