Media Archive

Facilitator joins regional school discussion

Article from The Piscataquis Observer, Vol. 166, No. 2, January 14, 2004

By Jessica Lee
Staff Writer

The Penquis region's five area superintendents of schools met last week with a facilitator appointed by State Commissioner of Education Susan Gendron to discuss the possible regionalization/consolidation of local school districts.

At the Jan. 8 meeting in Augusta, Susan Corrente, the facilitator charged with the task, heard concerns and fielded questions from superintendents representing SAD 41 in Milo, SAD 46 in Dexter, SAD 68 in
Dover-Foxcroft, SAD 4 in Guilford and Union 60 in Greenville.

"This meeting was an opportunity for these districts to identify areas in which they would like to have further guidance from the Department [of Education], prior to their taking any next steps," wrote Corrente in a Jan. 13 email to the Observer.

According to Corrente, the district's requested additional information and guidance in five areas.
She wrote that the superintendents are seeking information on the organizational structure preferred, or to be recommended in the future, by the state and any maximum number of such entities or any minimum number of students required in them, along with any financial incentives that will be offered to motivate communities to consolidate or regionalize.

The superintendents also requested information on "any models of proven efficiency that have been developed or any ideas the state may be entertaining in the way of centralized functions," such as implementing a statewide school calendar.

Related to specific problems now seen in the region, the question was raised as to how a district like SAD 46 in Dexter might be able to move forward with its plans for building a new primary/middle school. It was also asked how a community like Greenville, which is part of a union, can maintain a middle/high school presence even with fewer than 300 student, and whether there is any state funding to support such geographically isolated regions.

Corrente said she is now sharing these questions and concerns with Commissioner Gendron, and will get back to the superintendents for a follow-up meeting. She added that the release of a report from the Governor's Task Force on Increasing Efficiency and Equity in the Use of K-12 Educational Resources later this month may address some of these questions.

She said the superintendents expressed an interest in holding public meetings with local school boards on the issue with Corrente in the near future.

SAD 46 Superintendent Les Butler said he felt the meeting went well, and that all the districts "expressed our desire to continue to explore the issue of regionalization and consolidation."

"I was pleased with the meeting and the outcome of the meeting," Butler said. "I think it has gotten us moving again, and I'm looking forward to meeting with [Corrente] again to hear the response from the commissioner."

As the discussion continues, he said, SAD 46 will continue to work within its current school facilities to provide the best possible education for its students. He said there will be ongoing discussions regarding the space constraints at the Dexter Primary School.

"We don't have a lot of answers yet," Butler said. SAD 68 Superintendent John Dirnbauer echoed Butler's impression of the meeting. "It went pretty well," he said. "A great deal of the meeting was spent just bringing [Corrente] up to speed on the various issues, and each school district has a different perspective to offer."

"We got all the issues on the table, and right now she's trying to digest that in preparation for future meetings," said Dirnbauer.

From SAD 68's perspective, he added, the issue boils down to one question: "Can we provide greater educational opportunities for our students by providing a regional school ? It's a very complicated issue, and nobody has the answers right now."

SAD 41 Superintendent David Walker agreed the meeting was productive.

"There is some ground work that needs to be done before we can continue this exploration," Walker said. "We probably went to the meeting with as many questions for [Corrente} as she had for us. There was a good deal of information exchanged."

Walker cautioned residents who are served by the four SADs and Union 60 not to "try to simplify the issue," looking only ahead to the dread of closing a local high school, for instance. He said there is a full-spectrum of issues to be considered, including the cost-benefits to all towns involved in a regional effort and also program benefits for students."

Union 60 Superintendent Steve Pound agreed with many of the comments. "Basically, this was an opportunity for us to ask some questions and get some feedback on different things," he said, pointing out Union 60's unique position due to demographics and geographic location. "It was nice to have someone connected with the commissioner's office listen to our concerns and obstacles that we need to address. I think the meeting was very worthwhile."

SAD 4 Superintendent Paul Steams said he is "cautiously optimistic" about the future, but said it will definitely require a lot of cooperation between districts.

Trying to interpret the state's next position on regionalization/consolidation and the local impact, he added, is "like putting together a puzzle when all the pieces aren't cut out. I's going to take some patience, but we need to proceed."

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