Starks one step closer to merger with RSU 9

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FARMINGTON — The anticipated merger that would bring the town of Starks into the Regional School Unit 9 fold has received the support of the RSU 9 school board and will now go before the commissioner of education for approval.

A public hearing and districtwide referendum are expected to be held in March.

Currently, RSU 9 is made up of Chesterville, Farmington, Industry, New Sharon, New Vineyard, Temple, Weld, Wilton and Vienna.

On Tuesday, the RSU 9 School Board unanimously approved Starks’ reorganization plan.

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In January, Starks residents overwhelmingly voted to withdraw from the Madison-based RSU 59.

The major benefit to RSU 9 taxpayers will be the infusion of as much as $500,000 a year in combined additional state support and local Starks funding that will go to support educational programs. The exact amount will be based on student enrollment.

The addition of Starks into RSU 9 is expected to have minimal impact on the budget and no additional personnel will be needed, officials said.

According to Ernest Hilton of Starks, who chairs the Reorganization Committee, about 50 out of 70 students are expected to transfer to RSU 9 with the remaining 20 to continue attending RSU 59 schools. He anticipated that number will gradually diminish as the community gradually gravitates toward the Farmington district.

The initiated reorganization process has moved forward rapidly through the education department’s regulations, and Hilton said he is being contacted by other communities interested in withdrawing from their current school administrative units. Among the towns have been Athens, Yarmouth and Arundel, he said.

What sets the Starks’ process apart from other towns’ efforts has been having a willing partner and also a determined group of volunteers, officials said.

“You have to be really focused on what you are doing. And you were really welcoming,” Hilton told the RSU 9 Board.

“Most other towns in this process don’t have as decisively as good options as we did.”

RSU 9 Chairman Mark Prentiss commended Hilton and his group.

“We are the ‘poster child’ of getting all this to work,” Prentiss said.

A principal reason Starks wanted to reorganize into RSU 9 is the quality of education that would be available. According to the reorganization plan, there are “far greater educational opportunities available, a broader curriculum and extra-curriculum, greater availability of Advanced Placement courses, higher overall AP test scores, higher graduation rates, and generally higher aspiration levels among graduates of RSU 9.

“The plan assists the town of Starks in meeting its goals in providing a higher quality education for its children while also assisting RSU 9 in stabilizing its finances and students population,” the plan states.

Among the highlights of the plan:

* The reorganization will provide the town of Starks with one director to the RSU 9 School Board for a total of 16 directors.

* Starks will not be required to take over RSU 9 debt, but the community will have to continue paying its share of the debt on the former Starks School, which was turned over to Starks last June by RSU 59. No new school buildings will be needed in Starks since students will attend already established schools in Farmington and New Sharon.

* Starks students enrolled in RSU 59 now can continue their education in Madison schools until they graduate, but they can transfer to RSU 9 at any time.

* All current school personnel contracts, collective bargaining agreements and other school contractual obligations will be rolled over into the newly organized RSU 9.

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