Stuart Hedstrom • February 20, 2018
Last year a partnership between SAD 46/AOS 94 of the Dexter area and the Guilford-based SAD 4 was announced as one of three finalists for an Integrated, Consolidated (grade) 9-16 Educational Facility Pilot Project, joining collaborations based in and around Fort Kent and Madawaska as well as in Houlton and the surrounding school districts in southern Aroostook County.
In December the school board from the Milo-area SAD 41 approved a non-binding motion to join the second phase of the application process with SAD 46 and SAD 4, and the project would also involve the Greenville Schools and SAD 12/RSU 82 of Jackman — as these students may be able to take classes at the comprehensive high school. The Tri-County Technical Center in Dexter, which offers programs for high-schoolers across the region, is also a part of the application.
“The list was published late yesterday, there were three finalists and we were the third-ranked finalist,” SAD 46/AOS 94 Superintendent Kevin Jordan said on Feb. 15.
Under the Integrated, Consolidated 9-16 Educational Facility Pilot Project a regional comprehensive high school would be funded by the state with approximately $200 million set aside for the program. The facility is intended to serve as a model for the rest of Maine by encouraging neighboring school districts with declining enrollments to work together to combine resources and reduce costs.
The school would offer a variety of academic programs from high school to college — through the University of Maine and Maine Community College systems — and training and certifications in various industries via a number of business partnerships. Similar education models are used in other states as representatives from SAD 46 and SAD 4 have visited Worcester Technical High School in Massachusetts.
The local project received a score of 145 points, behind the 150 points for the second-place application from southern Aroostook County which is comprised of school districts in Houlton, Hodgdon, Danforth, Dyer Brook and the Region Two School of Applied Technology in Houlton. A score of 160 points was awarded to the application for the school units based in Fort Kent, Frenchville and Madawaska along with the St. John Valley Technology Center in Frenchville.
“We have 30 days to appeal and we will ponder whether to do that or not,” Jordan said.
Each applicant will have a 30-day review period to look over the process for any errors they feel may have been made in the Maine Department of Education’s (DOE) point totals and submit the appeal to the department. After that the commissioner of education has another 30 days to review any appeals brought forward and to finalize the “commissioner’s approved list” to bring back to the state board of education.
Jordan said the state board could give its approval to the commissioner’s recommendation for what project(s) will get funded at the April meeting. “I have heard nothing is final, it is how far the funding will go,” he said.
“We have got a couple of meetings scheduled with the department of education to learn more,” Jordan said about reviewing the local application and deciding whether or not to appeal.
“We certainly would want to be higher than third but it is still a great opportunity to do a project if the funding will be there,” he said.
The superintendent said 10 points was lost in the first part of the application process as at the time only SAD 46 and SAD 4 were listed, while the other applicants had more school districts involved. Jordan said the 10 extra points would have put the local project in second place on the scoring sheet.
“We cannot get those 10 points back,” Jordan said. “At this point that is the only frustrating part for us. We are still very excited and hopefully the Department of Education will fund all three projects.”
The location of any new school in the region would be determined after the awarding of funding, as a local group would work with the state to help determine the best site for all parties involved. Under a best-case scenario there would be three years of planning and two years of construction.
The governing structure is also to be determined, but local administrators have said that every participating town would be represented.
An early enrollment estimate is 600 students, comparable to the combined current figures for the trio of high schools in the three school districts. A cost-sharing formula may be used to fund the regional comprehensive high school once the facility opens.
“Communities across Maine are demonstrating that when the state provides them with support and incentives, they will work together to create more opportunities for students in an efficient and effective way,” said Gov. Paul LePage in a statement recognizing the board of education’s vote to accept the scoring for the finalists for the Integrated, Consolidated 9–16 Educational Facility Pilot Project. “I commend the local superintendents and school boards for putting the needs of their students first.”
LePage added, “Enabling Maine students to benefit from regional and collaborative approaches to education is the right thing to do. When these projects up and running, they will serve as a shining example of what is possible when our communities work together to benefit students.”
More information on the regional comprehensive high school can be found at www.aos94.org.
Don Eno of the St. John Valley Times/Fiddlehead Focus contributed to this story.