SAD 58 board discusses Eustis withdrawal effort

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SALEM TOWNSHIP — Directors received the first draft of the Eustis’ voters’ proposal to withdraw from the SAD 58 district on Thursday night.

Consultant Dr. Mark Eastman, a retired Oxford Hills School District superintendent, presented the nine-page document to the directors and Superintendent Brenda Stevens.

“This is a state-mandated process, and the process is very well articulated,” he said.

The Eustis withdrawal committee has tentatively scheduled June 30, 2013, as the last day of their membership in the district.

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Eastman briefly reviewed 14 categories, including tuition, transportation, special education, staff contracts, debt service, leases and division of monetary assets, that the committee and the SAD 58 board must negotiate.

The Maine Department of Education must approve any final agreement, and Eustis voters would have to approve the agreement by a two-thirds super-majority. They then would elect a board of directors and hire a part-time superintendent.

“It’s not done until all those steps are taken,” Eastman said.

There are 15 Eustis students at Mt. Abram High School, and they could choose to attend Mt. Abram High School after the first full year of withdrawal. Eastman said the new Eustis board would seek a 10-year tuition contract with SAD 58. The new School Administrative Unit also could contract with other high schools, including RSU 9, for tuition agreements.

“We hope you’re amenable to the sharing of staff and the tuition agreement,” Eastman said.

Special education staff and other shared positions might not be as easily negotiated.

“I have some concerns about sharing the staff at the level we do now,” Superintendent Brenda Stevens said. “There are some challenges with what we all want.”

Eastman noted that since Eustis’ share of the bond payment for the Strong school’s construction debt is very close to the bond payment for the Stratton school construction, that division of that debt could be settled easily. 

The Eustis committee seeks ownership of the property, including the school building. Negotiating the value and transfer of other property, like copiers, school buses and classroom furniture, might be more difficult, but the SAD 58 board agreed it would try to schedule a shared meeting on Jan. 17 to continue the process.

For more than three decades, Stratton Elementary School has been threatened with closure. More than half of the children live in Eustis, and another 30 percent travel from Carrabassett Valley. Fifteen percent come from Coplin Plantation and Wyman Township.

An exploratory committee has invested more than two years of study and discussion to determine the feasibility of keeping the school open and educating the children outside the district. During that exploratory process, Maine Commissioner of Education Steven Bowen and Stevens have met with committee members.

Until the 2012-13 fiscal year, the town’s tax commitment had been higher than that of Avon, Kingfield, Phillips and Strong. Although Eustis’ tax base benefits from the Boralex biomass plant and Stratton Lumber, residents in other towns have suggested Eustis hasn’t been paying its fair share.

Residents want a guarantee that they can keep their school and allow high school students some choices, especially with the long distances they are required to travel each day.

Stratton directors Sue Fotter and Sarah Strunk have supported the withdrawal effort.

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