DIXFIELD – Peru School Superintendent John Turner believes that merging the school with neighboring SAD 21 is the town’s only option.

“The educational opportunities for our kids are worth the merger with SAD 21,” Turner said to key representatives of the proposed merger at a March 26 meeting in Dixfield.

If Peru residents fail to approve the merger with SAD 21 or SAD 43, the school will eventually close because state funding is increasingly drying up, and the town can’t afford to go it alone, Turner added.

“I predict that within the next three years or so, Peru will not be able to afford to be on its own. Every year, we’re getting less state funding. In reality, Peru will need to do something in the very near future, as we cannot survive independently forever,” he added.

The purpose of the March 26 meeting was to determine a fair cost-share percentage for the SAD 21 towns of Canton, Carthage and Dixfield, as well as Peru.

At Peru’s last School Committee meeting, Director Richard Colpitts revived the possibility of merging with SAD 43 should SAD 21’s cost-share offer for Peru be considered unsellable to town voters.

However, he noted, merging with SAD 43 instead of SAD 21 would give Peru no school board representation nor would it get a new school.

Last fall, SAD 43 representatives offered to lease its Virginia Elementary School in Rumford to Peru.

But, Turner told SAD 21 representatives that if Peru merged with SAD 43, SAD 21 would lose close to $500,000 per year in tuition, although this year that number would drop to $415,558.

Peru sends the bulk of its eighth-grade graduates to SAD 21 and, for $200,000, another 35 students to SAD 43.

“If you lose our $500,000 in annual tuition, it is money you would have received above your state subsidy. It will not be made up by state subsidy. At your present mill rate, 10.88, it will cost Dixfield $330,000, Canton $120,000, and Carthage $50,000. These are real numbers of local tax dollars.

“You may say it would cost less without us, but at secondary level, 100 students represents three teachers ($100,000). Dixfield will still need to raise $264,000, Canton $96,000 and Carthage $40,000 in additional local money annually,” Turner said.

In response to area misconceptions, he elaborated further on the advantages SAD 21 gets if Peru joins:

• A new school, which would solve Canton’s and Peru’s woes of aging, problematic facilities and keep a school on the south side of the Androscoggin River, which separates Dixfield from Peru. It would also help SAD 21 alleviate overcrowding in each of its schools.

• Possible funding for renovations to SAD 21’s elementary school in Dixfield and considerably less hard feelings from Canton residents for the looming closure of their school.

• Multiple classes at all grade levels.

• A more cost-efficient system with the addition of Peru’s 290 students, which, when combined with SAD 21’s 800 students, would make an average size district, large enough to increase course offerings while reducing class size.

• Much needed athletic fields.

• The smoothing out of SAD 21’s entire transportation system with the new school to be constructed somewhere on Route 108.

A second meeting, which had been scheduled for Thursday in Dixfield, was postponed until Turner and SAD 21 Superintendent David Pierce could meet with Suzan C. Cameron, school finance supervisor with the Maine Department of Education in Augusta.



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