SALEM TOWNSHIP — A public hearing on a proposal to merge SAD 58 and Anson-based SAD 74 is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Mount Abram High School.

District voters in Strong, Avon, Phillips, Kingfield and Eustis will go to the polls March 8 to vote on the proposal. Residents of SAD 74, which also includes, Embden, New Portland and Solon, will vote March 5.

The two districts are considering the benefits of joining in an Alternative Organizational Structure. They would share a superintendent, a special education director, and administrative positions.

The SAD 58 board has split on its support for the merger. Mike Pond, who has been a board member for 18 years, says the district should wait, because they have lost an opportunity to avoid the annual non-consolidation $133,000 penalty. The AOS Committee and superintendents missed the state’s Jan. 31 merger deadline, and that opportunity to save money was the only valid reason for merging, he said.

“We have nothing to lose by not joining MSAD 74 this year, but we could have a lot to gain if we can just wait. If we join in a legally-binding agreement, we can’t get out,” he said. “We can wait to see what the new governor’s plans are for education and consolidation rules. No one really knows yet, and I have put together some figures that make a good case for not rushing into something right now.”

A handful of attendees came to the Anson-based SAD 74’s public hearing  Feb. 9 at Carrabec High School, but Pond hopes for more participation at this week’s hearing.

Sarah Strunk and Sue Fotter, directors representing Stratton and Eustis, wrote in a recent letter of support that the district should not pass on the opportunity to collaborate.

“We have been on the school board for less than a year, but have experienced the frustration of making more cuts in the programming offered to our communities’ children,” they wrote. “As with anything new, the exact dollar figure saved by forming an AOS is an estimation. There may be some hidden, unanticipated costs, and there will be savings, and we should not pass those up.”

Both districts have sought consolidation partners for the past two years.

SAD 58 and Farmington-based SAD 9 voters declined to merge, but the Maine Department of Education allowed SAD 9 to create its own Regional School Unit.

SAD 58 has had approximately $133,000 of state subsidies withheld as a penalty. Penalty money is redistributed to Maine districts complying with the mandate.

SAD 74 voters have gone to the polls twice, attempting to join with other districts. Voters in both Madison-based SAD 59 and Bingham-based SAD 13 voted against the plan. SAD 74 has had $161,000 of state subsidy money withheld for not consolidating.

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