Media Archive

Area SADs mull regional options

Article from The Piscataquis Observer, Vol. 164, No. 29, July 17, 2002

By Sarah MacIlroy
Staff Writer

HOWLAND Regional education needs and concerns will be up for discussion when superintendents, school board members and state school officials meet in Howland next week.

Earlier this month, J. Duke Albanese called a meeting of SAD 31 (the Howland area), SAD 67 (the Lincoln area) and Milo's SAD 41 to explore regional options for educating area children.

According to the Department of Education Spokesperson Yellow Breen some of discussion will involve the building needs of SAD 41.

With a high school building that has served students for over 30 years, Penquis Valley High School ranks near the top of the state's construction priority list, but has yet to receive approval for construction or renovation.

"I gather from conversations in the past that both the state board of education and the commissioner have concerns about whether it is really viable to simply rebuild the high school... given student enrollments in the area (and) given how small of a school it is and how limited funds are," Breen said.

The meeting, he said, could help the state decide what the next step should be not just for SAD 41, but for the entire area.

"The intent of the meeting that is taking place... is to really focus on... what's going on not just in SAD 41, but what's going on in the neighboring school districts (and)... the potential to think about solutions that could meet the needs of the whole region," he explained.

The Howland district, similar in size to SAD 41, has been approved for construction of a new high school, a move which state officials appear to be questioning.

" I think the concern is that it is a very small school," Breen said. "It is in a district and a region that has lost a significant amount of enrollment over the last decade and recent years, and is it really viable to build a brand new stand-alone school in that area based on those trends?"

The new high school in Howland is estimated to cost over $9 million.

Taxpayers in the district have approved the building and renovation plans, with work tentatively scheduled to start next spring.

However, the views of state officials seem to be that tight economic times demand a step back from the building issues in order to give another consideration of how money can be spent to meet the most needs.

"We have a fixed amount of bonding capacity for school construction," Breen explained. "Unfortunately, if we do a lot of small projects, the number of students we can impact with a limited number of dollars is going to be lower than if we could talk about the solution in a bigger picture."

Officials hope to clarify the state's stand, he said.

"I think the state board and the department have been trying to send a clearer message to folks that have applied. Just because you're on the list and fairly high up on the list doesn't mean we're going to rebuild the same school you have today. It means you have a serious need, but it doesn't necessarily mean that we're defining the solution as a new school with essentially the same dimensions as the old one. We're asking people to look at more creative solutions."

Breen stressed that this wasn't something just SADs 41, 31 and 67 faced. He said it is something that most schools would have to deal with eventually.

"It doesn't make sense to do solutions based on arbitrary political boundaries if, a mile or two on the other side of that boundary, there could be lots of room and school that's in good shape," he explained. "However, there are some districts that either have a pretty substantial student population on their own and/or... there's huge distances involved. Obviously, you're not going to want to put kids on buses for an excessive amount of time, either. You have to count all those things. You have some schools that are small by necessity due to isolation, but we have some that aren't where there may be an opportunity to work regionally."

Regional efforts aren't something the Milo school district has been ignoring.

Earlier in the year, officials from SAD 41 had an informal meeting with the Howlahd district about high school services, but according to Milo Superintendent David Walker, Howland wasn't interested in exploring those options because their construction plans were so far along.

Walker said he feels if the state goes ahead with the new Howland high school, it could mean increased possibility of improvements to PVHS.

"If they go ahead and build the high school for Howland that's probably a good sign for us because that means they are going to continue to build. So, we'll just hang in there and wait for our turn," he said."It's going to be very difficult for me in Milo, Maine to justifify or promote to the local citizens regionalized services if they see a new high school in Howland -a $10 million building for fewer students. And it's going to be very hard for the department to justify promoting or supporting those schools in the neighbor ing districts."

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