Media Archive

SAD 41 consults towns on regionalization effort

Article from The Piscataquis Observer, Vol. 164, No. 41, October 09, 2002

By Jessica Lee
Staff Writer

MILO SAD 41 Superintendent David Walker told town officials last week the district is seeking a partner to make "a true regional effort" to address the inevitable decline in student enrollment.

"We are aware of what's projected for the region over the next 10 years, and there are some pretty alarming numbers," he said at the Oct. 2 school board meeting. "We're not ignoring the reality here."

According to state figures, Penquis Valley High School's projected student enrollment is expected to decline over the next decade from the present 280 students to about 175 students. Walker stressed that the high school is viable now, but that the district needs to begin planning ahead on how to address the problem.

The state Department of Education is asking any district with school populations less than 400 students to examine all options, and is promoting regionalization. In particular, it is asking any school district with requests for capital improvement funds to look at consolidation, otherwise it will not fund new buildings or renovations.

On top of that. Walker said lesser enrollment brings a decline in state subsidy for education, which in turn has the potential to up local taxes and negatively impact the school curriculum.

The district has spoken to SAD 31 in Howland and Foxcroft Academy in Dover-Foxcroft about regionalizing its high school program. However, Walker said, those talks have been disappointing.

School board chairwoman Stephanie Salley sent a letter, dated Sept. 12, to member towns asking that selectmen and other officials attend the Oct. 2 meeting to provide input on regionalizing the school district.

The superintendent told town officials from Milo, Brownville and Lagrange at the meeting that SAD 31 has offered to accept SAD 41's students on a tuition basis, as did Foxcroft Academy. However, neither option appeals to the district at this time, he said.

Foxcroft Academy, being a private school, could, at any point, raise its tuition, Walker said, leaving the district with an even higher bill for educating its high school students than if it remained independent. Likewise, he said, the district is not in favor of tuitioning students from Penquis Valley High School to another institution, such as Penobscot Valley High School in Howland, because doing so could leave the students feeling like outsiders or guests in the host school.

"We want our students to feel ownership in their school," he said.

Walker said the district would support a "true regional effort" that consists of the construction of a new high school-shared by two districts. If SAD 31 agreed to such a step, a new high school could be built in Lagrange, which is half way between both districts, he said.

Sophie Wilson, Brownville town manager, said the district may be able to address the operational budget with creativity, but that the capital budget, in the end, "will get you." She said the district would still have to operate a junior high school and upkeep of the Penquis complex may be too expensive for taxpayers to shoulder.

Walker said he has "tossed out" a proposal to SAD 68 in Dover-Foxcroft that would, if the district tuitions students to Foxcroft Academy, bring SAD 68's students in grades 6-8 to Milo.

Milo Town Manager Jane Jones said that she doesn't see how the district can "stick its head in the sand" and ignore the need to regionalize. She said the population of the towns are dropping specifically in the 20 to 50 age group, as people leave in search of job opportunities. She said if the district continues to operate separate from any regional effort, "you'd be doing a disservice to the children."

As each student at SAD 41 is presently worth $5,000 in state subsidy, the decline of that population would dramatically impact local taxes, she said.

Jones added that the towns cannot sustain a $25 per $1,000 valuation tax rate. "Even one year," she said
"is a heroic effort."

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