SAD 9 ponders school plans

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FARMINGTON – Uncertainty regarding the future of their school district was on the mind of SAD 9 directors when they met at Mt. Blue High School on Tuesday.

The board was reacting to Gov. John Baldacci’s proposal to shrink the number of Maine school districts from 152 to 26.

Superintendent Michael Cormier attempted to enlighten the board by presenting each member with a three-ring binder full of information about the proposed plan. The information highlighted studies done by independent firms, included editorials from Maine newspapers, and even a transcript of Baldacci’s speech introducing the plan. Cormier also cited his own research.

“Systems of 20,000, 18,000 (students), research shows them to not be economically efficient,” he said. “It is not beneficial academically to the students.”

Cormier went on to say a student body of 3,000 to 4,000 students in a district is optimal.

Under Baldacci’s plan, SAD 9, which consist of nine towns, would become District 19 and serve 25 towns, expanding mostly westward.

The Maine Department of Education states on its Web site that the governor’s plan would, “Consolidate educational administration to reduce costs and gain efficiencies,” and, “(produce a) quarter billion dollars in savings in the first three years of implementation of administrative restructuring.”

The governor’s proposal is not the only consolidation plan being considered. Cormier said as many as seven different plans could be proposed. When asked by board member Jo Josephson of Temple which he prefers, Cormier cited Maine Senate Majority Leader Libby Mitchell’s proposal, which calls for 26 voluntary collaborative regions. “The Mitchell plan gave me the most hope,” Cormier said.

State Rep. Janet Mills, D-Farmington, was also on hand. “We’re in the dark ages, as you all are,” she said, adding that she is “concerned about a loss of local control; a loss of autonomy.”

She advised the board that there is “a lot of hoopla out there; be careful in your thinking.”

Sen. Walter R. Gooley, R-Farmington, also attended the meeting. He promised to send information to school board members as it becomes available.

While he has concerns, Cormier also told the board that dismissing consolidation or collaboration with other districts outright would be a mistake. “I will not sit here and tell you that there are not things we could be doing with other districts to make things more efficient.”

Ruth Haszko, a Waterville High School teacher with two children enrolled in Farmington’s Mallett Elementary School expressed similar sentiment.

“It’s an important conversation to be having,” Haszko said. “A lot of high schools around the state could benefit from consolidation.”

She cited Jay and Livermore Falls as an example of small, neighboring high schools that could easily be combined.

The meeting continued with other business but the topic of consolidation was never far from board members’ minds. During a presentation by Principal Arline Amos of Weld Elementary School about the success of the school’s altered lunch schedule, board member Mark Prentiss of Industry quipped, “It sounds like we have the right size school district.”

To which board Chairman Ray Glass of Farmington quickly added, “forward that to Augusta.”

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