ANDOVER – Andover and other SAD 44 towns are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to meeting the recently enacted state requirements for creating larger school districts.

“One of the issues here was rural versus urban (school) districts,” pointed out SAD 44 school board chairman and Andover regional planning committee representative Sid Pew at Tuesday’s selectmen’s meeting. “The way the law was written, it works for urban districts.”

“There’s a lot of inequities in there, but once you come down to it, you have to follow the law.”

Pew updated selectmen on the most recent regional planning committee meeting, in which Sen. Bruce Bryant, D-Dixfield, Rep. Tim Carter, D-Bethel, and Rep. Sawin Millett, R-Waterford, who represent SAD 44 towns in Maine’s Legislature, attended. This past winter, Bryant and Carter fought to reduce the state’s enrollment requirement for school districts from 1,000 to 800, a proposal that was passed by the Legislature and subsequently vetoed by Gov. Baldacci.

Consolidation efforts

SAD 44 had originally attempted to become part of a new district with SAD 43 and SAD 21, but was left out of that mix in favor of SAD 39. The district had considered partnering with several other neighboring school systems as well but was rejected, and ended up seeking guidance from the state Department of Education as to what it should do.

Eventually, SAD 44 was encouraged to consolidate with Gilead, Upton and Union 37, which includes Rangeley and surrounding plantations. Pew noted that distances between schools and the district enrollment figures were a concern, as the 1,000 minimum student figure was met based on 2006 student populations but was unlikely to be sustained without the inclusion of students from unorganized territories in the data.

Education Commissioner Susan Gendron has stated plans to introduce legislation that would allow students from unorganized territories to be included in the enrollment statistics for school districts throughout Maine. However, Pew said, such legislation can’t be considered until January 2009 when the Legislature reconvenes, and final consolidation plans are due in the commissioner’s office by December of this year.

One option that SAD 44’s regional planning committee brought up at its last meeting was seeking an extension on the consolidation plan deadline until after the Legislature considers the commissioner’s proposal. Pew then explained that the legislators present noted that such an extension would be highly unlikely to be approved.

If SAD 44 doesn’t submit a final plan that meets the student enrollment requirements by the December deadline, the district would be penalized roughly $185,000 in state reimbursement.

“It’s unfortunate that the legislation was done from the top down within a very short period of time,” Pew noted, adding that he was impressed with the work local senators and representatives had done to try to ease the burden of the law on SAD 44. “I think that the education of the kids was not discussed in this legislation.”

“Consolidation is not a bad thing,” he concluded. “It needs to be done in a little slower and a little more realistic manner.”

The town is advertising for bids for rebuilding the sidewalk on Lower Main Street. The deadline for bids is 1 p.m. Sept. 30, when the Town Office closes for the day, and they will be opened at the selectmen’s meeting on that date.

In other business, the board appointed Brad Thibodeau as project overseer for work on the Town Hall bell tower. A new purchase policy with updates was also accepted.

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