Media Archive

Talk of a regional high school will move slowly

Article from The Piscataquis Observer, Vol. 165, No. 21, May 21, 2003

By Ben Bragdon
Staff Writer

GUILFORD The four school districts that surround Dover-Foxcroft have agreed to explore the possibility of constructing a regional high school as financial pressures at home and in Augusta force local educators to pursue all options with regard to the delivery of education.

By the end of June, SADs 4, 41,46, and 68 will each have drafted and signed resolutions declaring their intention to assess the feasibility of building such a school. Those letters will be packaged together and sent to the Department of Education as an indication of the group's commitment to seriously investigate consolidation at the secondary level.

The collaborative effort is the result of a meeting last week in Guilford that included representatives from the school boards of the four districts plus Greenville, which will participate in discussions but in all likelihood will be kept from joining a regional school due to its distance from the other districts.

Precipitated by SAD 46 in Dexter, the meeting last Thursday was the second of a series of meetings designed to begin a dialogue on the allocation of educational resources in the region.

SAD 46 has taken the point in these discussions as a result of pressure from Augusta to look at joining with another district when constructing a school to replace Dexter Regional Middle School (DRMS).

The purpose of sending to the state a letter from each school board is to aid in convincing Augusta to go forward with the DRMS project in good faith as the local districts begin the long process of studying the impact of a regional high school. The local SADs feel that the state is rushing the complex consolidation question by dangling the funding for the new middle school as a reward for real steps toward regionalization.

There are many issues to be discussed regarding regional education, officials say, and the process will take years, much longer than SAD 46 can go without a new middle school. Linking the DRMS construction with hard decisions on regionalization, they say, does not provide enough time to look with any depth into this contentious,emotional and complex issue.

"We may find two years down the line ... that something else entirely (besides a regional high school) is the solution," said SAD 41 chairman Jeff Hamlin. "I don't want to rush into anything. I don't want to be held hostage." While the school boards all agree that the road to district intertwining is long and uncertain, they also feel strongly the-need to be proactive, lest any or all of them end up with a situation like that of SAD 31 in Howland. That school district was intent on building and operating its own new high school until economic realitiies set in forcing SAD 31 to partner with another district in order to get funding.

"You want to be ahead of this thing, not behind it," said superintendent David Walker of SAD 41.

Recent actions by the state give a strong indication of the route Augusta is taking toward forcing school districts to explore regionalizing services. Walker said. The next round of ratings for new school construction, which rank projects throughout the state to determine need and direct limited funds to the most severe cases, has been delayed, he said, and a moratorium has been placed on construction.

In addition, legislation put in place forces schools to provide "essential services and programs" in order to receive funding for a new school. Over the next decade, schools throughout the region will have to be replaced, and state money will be needed to replace them.

As enrollment falls in local school dis tricts, it becomes more and more unlikely that those essential services will be able to be provided in the manner dictated by the state, forcing each individual school district to find a "dancing partner" &Mac247; another school district with which to join forces.

"(The state) is serious about this, folks," Walker said. "The pieces have all been put in place to make high schools do certain things."

Rather than wait and deal with these issues as they arise, leaving open the possibility that options will become severely limited as time moves on, the school districts here want to work as one to ensure that local students receive a top-grade education regardless of what district they live in.

"Whatever we come up with for a plan has to help everybody," said Larry Davis, chairman of the SAD 4 board.

Architect Steve Blatt, who is heading the DRMS project and facilitated Thursday's discussion, said a regional high school would come under the formation of a Community School District (CSD). The CSD board would have representatives from each of the school districts, which would maintain their identity and operate their districts at the middle and elementary levels. The CSD may or may not have a superintendent, Blatt said. Five towns centered around Camden have formed a CSD, he said.

The hope among those at the meeting was that a new high school would blend regular educational opportunities with a technical center, advanced programs, high-tech facilities and expanded athletics, while integrating partnerships with research and business entities.

"I think we can turn it into an economic development center," said Rick Johnston of SAD 68.

All discussions and plans at this point are conjecture, however, and real decisions will not be made until the proper information is put together. A cost-benefit analysis will have to be done, and all kinds of avenues are yet to be explored, a process that could take two years.

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