Media Archive

Atkinson votes for deorganization plan

Article from The Piscataquis Observer, Vol. 166, No. 3, January 21, 2004

By Jessica Lee
Staff Writer

Opens way for move to SAD 68

ATKINSON Residents last week overwhelmingly voted in favor of the plan for deorganization, which also would effectively remove any affiliation with SAD 41 in Milo.

The proposed deorganization plan which sends the town's schoolchildren to SAD 68 in Dover-Foxcroft instead was approved by a vote of 66-6 at the Jan. 14 special town meeting, according to Town Clerk Mae Johnson.

The deorganization plan now must be approved by the state legislature, before returning to the townspeople for a final referendum vote. Town officials and members of the deorganization committee plan to travel to Augusta Wednesday, Jan. 21, to appear before the State and Local Government Committee for a hearing on the proposed bill.

But there is some opposition.

SAD 41 Superintendent David Walker is opposed to the plan, because of its impact on the school district and the remaining towns. Although the town of Atkinson does not send many students to the district, the number is hovering around 50, he said the loss of the town through this process means the loss of approximately $360,000 in state subsidy and local assessment. Walker plans to attend Wednesday's hearing to speak in opposition to the plan.

"I have no choice but to testify against their bill," Walker said.

He noted that the school district had "stayed out of the fray" when the town of Atkinson last took up the prospect of deorganization primarily because the plan did not discount the school district. At the time, Walker said, the impact on SAD 41 was not as great.

"The impact financially is huge for SAD 41," Walker said. "It is not in SAD 41's best interests for this plan to go forward. Their deorganization plan comes at the expense of other [SAD 41] communities."

If SAD 41 loses all Atkinson students, the school district would need to cut programs or staffing or increase class sizes to make up the difference or else the additional cost would be shouldered by Milo, Brownville and Lagrange, according to the superintendent.

"In Milo," Walker said, "that could mean a one mil increase" to the municipal tax rate.

SAD 68 Superintendent John Dirnbauer said that school district may have to increase class size and juggle staffing to accomodate the additional students, although he warned "it's too soon to tell" what the actual impact may be. He said he doesn't foresee any problems educating the students financially, based on the state's tuition rate of $4,500 per student, he said. Currently SAD 68 spends approximately $4,800 on each student annually, Dimbauer said.

State Rep. Jim Annis, who sponsored the bill, said he will not make any recommendation on the deorganization plan at Wednesday's hearing. He said he was unaware until recently that the plan had altered the education plan for Atkinson students.

"I will make a recommendation for deorganization, but I'm not making a recommendation on the plan," said Annis. "I wasn't aware that a committee had gone out to survey parents to send kids to Dover-Foxcroft, not until the last minute."

Sen. Paul Davis, cosponsor for the bill, said he was also unaware that the shifting of students from SAD 41 to SAD 68 would impact the Milo district to such a financial degree. "I was told that the difference would be a wash," he said. "I found out ... the deorganication would cost SAD 41 in the neighborhood of $360,000, and that's quite a ways to being a wash."

Davis said he would not recommend the committee approve the current deorganizational plan, but defer back to the previous plan approved by the state legislature two years ago. That plan retained SAD 41 as the town's affiliated district.

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.