BETHEL — School Administrative District 44 directors learned Tuesday that a provision in state law allows for a process that could result in the reapportionment of member towns’ representation on the school board.
Woodstock Director Marcel Polak, who chairs the board’s committee on Newry withdrawal, said the school board has been bound by the state’s constitutional requirements to apportion representatives based on each town’s population.
Currently, each town in the district has a different number of board members, and there is also a weighted vote system in place to further apportion representation according to population.
“The result is that while Newry contributes approximately 38 percent of the budget, it only has two directors,” and when weighted votes are taken, it has only six percent of the vote, Polak said. “It is considered by many people to be very unfair.”
However, he said, one of the district’s attorneys, Richard Spencer, had made the school board committee aware of another option that has recently been allowed in another Maine school district.
“If our board petitions the DOE commissioner to reapportion our board representation, then he would allow us to engage in the formation of a four-town committee, with three representatives from each town, just the way we had the cost-sharing committee,” Polak said.
That committee would have the authority to decide on the total number of school directors, and how many each town should have.
One solution might be for Bethel to have six board members, and for each of the other towns to have three. Weighted voting would be eliminated.
Any such proposal by a four-town committee would require approval by the DOE commissioner, but would then go into effect “without district voters weighing in,” Polak said. Under this system, all nominated directors would be placed on a districtwide referendum ballot, and the entire board would be elected by the voters of each town.
Previously, during withdrawal negotiations, a loophole in the state’s constitutional requirements regarding school boards had been identified that would have allowed Newry to have a third director, to be voted on by the entire district.
However, Polak said, the total amount of Newry’s weighted votes would not have changed, and the town’s withdrawal committee declined the option.
Directors will discuss the possibility of forming a four-town committee to study reapportioning school board representation at their next meeting.
In other business:
• Murphy said the DOE commissioner approved SAD 44’s request to extend the school day by one hour for 25 days, to make up five snow days. Under the plan, barring additional snow days, the last day of school for students would be June 20.
• Maintenance Supervisor Ron Deegan updated the board on the status of bids for a pellet boiler system at Crescent Park School. All of the bids were higher than the $370,000 that was estimated by the engineers and approved by voters for the project.
“We decided it would be best for the district to not do that project at this time,” he said, adding that the decision will be re-evaluated at a later date.
• Three district teachers, Kelley Fraser, Tera Ingraham and Tanya Nicols, attended a Maine Laptop Initiative Apple Teacher program last fall, then created a four-week professional development program to provide the same training to interested staff throughout the district.
As a result, 43 district teachers completed the program and became Apple-certified teachers.
• 4-H Camp and Learning Center Executive Director Ryder Scott and Telstar Middle School Principal Mark Kenney announced that SAD 44 will receive a multiyear grant to fund a new program to provide mentoring, support and leadership development opportunities for at-risk students.
Scott said specific details of the grant and its intended use will be provided soon by the grantor.