RUMFORD – The decision on whether three contiguous school administrative districts should merge is in the hands of the residents of the 12 member towns.

The fourth and final public informational hearing on the proposed plan to form the Western Foothills School District was held Thursday night in the Mountain Valley High School auditorium before a crowd of about 50 people.

SAD 43 Superintendent Jim Hodgkin said that although some savings would likely be identified, the primary reason for combining SADs 43 (Rumford), 21 (Dixfield) and 39 (Buckfield), along with the unaffiliated town of Hanover, would be for the benefit of the students.

With a district of 3,100, more educational offerings could be made available, according to the three superintendents – Hodgkin, SAD 21 Superintendent Tom Ward and SAD 39 Superintendent Rick Colpitts.

Although SAD 43 enrolls enough students, about 1,475, to stay on its own, Hodgkin said it would be nearly impossible to retain the district’s educational program because of anticipated flat funding from the state. He acknowledged that even with consolidation, there would be no guarantee that everything would stay intact, but the chances for a larger number of educational services would be greater.

One resident, Joe Gabriel of Rumford, wondered whether SAD 43 could stand alone while SADs 39 and 21 merged. Hodgkin said the two districts could choose to file a separate plan if the current one is turned down.

If the plan is not approved by all three districts at the November election, it is considered defeated. The school boards from each district would then meet to decide what their next steps would be. According to state law, districts must continue to seek administrative partners unless they have a state-approved alternative plan.

Betty Barrett, a member of the Reorganizational Planning Committee that put together the plan that was submitted to the Maine Department of Education, said voters should wait until a decision is made on a citizen initiative to repeal the consolidation law.

“I went to the RPC with an open mind, but I can’t see how we can vote yes on Nov. 4,” Barrett said.

Lew Irish, a Rumford resident, was concerned that Rumford would lose more control if it had only three members on a new Western Foothills School District board. The reorganization plan calls for forming a 17-member governing board. Each town would have at least one member and Rumford would have the largest representation, at three.

Hodgkin said he had never seen an issue decided by blocs of town representatives on the SAD 43 board. The board is made up representatives from Rumford, Mexico, Byron and Roxbury.

The proposed new administrative unit would serve 12 towns with a total population of about 20,000 people. The three central offices would be reduced to one and several of the administrative positions, such as superintendent, special education director, curriculum director and others would be served by one person for each position.


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