SAD 41 explores regional optionsArticle from The Piscataquis Observer, Vol. 164, No. 24, June 12, 2002By Sarah MacIlroyStaff WriterMILO – As school consolidation becomes an issue across the region, school officials at SAD 41 have begun exploring options to maintain quality education for local students.At a board meeting, last week Superintendent David Walker announced the results of the first official meeting with SAD 31 to discuss the possibility of a regional high school somewhere in between Howland and Milo."Informally, we've been talking for probably 12 to 18 months," Walker said in an interview. "But this past Tuesday (June 4) was our first formal meeting. We finally sat down with them to formally discuss those options."However, the meeting didn't hold the promise that SAD 41 might have hoped for. With recent approval for the state funds to build a new high school in Howland, Walker reported to the board, that SAD 31 Superintendent Keith Cook said thedistrict wasn't prepared to explore regional possibilities at this time."It was a very preliminary, informal discussion," said Cook. "We may have some interest (in a regional school), but at this point we're moving forward."With the district moving toward the concept phase of planning a new high school for their 230 students, work could begin on the new SAD 31 building as early as this fall, Cook said.Unless Howland district decides, for some reason, that building a new high school isn't feasible for them, the regional high school option will most likely be postponed indefinitely.Walker said declining enrollments and a desire to explore the district's options prompted the idea of a regional school."We haven't necessarily closed the door on Foxcroft Academy or SAD 31 or the option of maintaining our own school," he explained. "These are all preliminary discussions. Five years down the road, if the enrollments in Piscataquis County and northern Penobscot County continue to decline for the next 10 years at the rate they have during the past 10 years, then certainly there may, and I emphasize the word may, be the need to consolidate area high schools."Walker said the board has indicated that they would rather take the initiative to explore what their options would be rather than wait for a time when circumstances force them to address the issue."The number one key to this (exploring options) being what's going to be best for our students," he said. "That may be continuing to run our own programs. It may mean consolidation. It may mean collaboration with others, but with an eye to what's best for the children of SAD 41. We are exploring every option in order to do that."One big part of the consolidation/collaboration picture is the fact that SAD 41 has a growing need for repairs and renovations at their 35 year-old high school."You do need a viable structure to work with," Walker said. "Buildings are built with a life-span of 50 years, but that also expects that you are going to put the money into your buildings each year for maintenance, and in this district, as in many rural districts, the money has just not been available each year."Even though the building is only 35 years old. Walker believes the district needs to be looking at replacement because of the lack of funds for preventative maintenance that have been available.However, a small student body and recent state shortfall make getting state construction funds a challenge.But however distant district consolidation is, SAD 41's philosophy seems to include beating the state to the punch by knowing what options are available."We would rather be pro-active than have to react at some point because we can no longer be viable as a high school," Walker explained. "Where(it)will go, who knows, but certainly it's very forward-thinking of everyone involved to be exploring those options before the need is so great that the options are less than what we have now."NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.