MSAD 58 school board submits plan, signals opposition to consolidation

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KINGFIELD – The MSAD 58 school board met with selectmen and residents of its district’s member towns Thursday evening, asking for input before sending a revised consolidation plan to the state Department of Education. After voting to send the revision, the majority of the board then signaled their opposition to the plan by voting to not recommend a consolidation plan that would combine the MSAD 58, MSAD 9, Coplin and Highland Plantation school districts.

The school board would have risked violating the law by not submitting the Regional Planning Committee’s consolidation plan. According to Superintendent Quenten Clark, the state could have withheld $3.5 million in subsidies had the plan not been submitted, and those present were united in urging the board to follow the law.

“I would urge the board to vote to send the plan,” Selectman John Dill said, “let the people in the district decide, and hold meetings to inform them.”

The revised plan consists of extremely minor corrections and provision 13-B. That’s the controversial addition narrowly approved at last Thursday’s RPC meeting which addresses a major shift of cost from the MSAD 58 communities to the MSAD 9 communities. This shift was detected roughly a month ago by the state while looking at an unrelated matter, and represents over $900,000 in local share expenditures.

The exact breakdowns of how much of each town’s local share would shift can be found here.

13-B states that for the first year of consolidation no costs would shift. The shift is then applied by 20 percent increments over each year. By year six of the plan, the cost shift would be unfettered, but at that point the new school board would have prepared several budgets and be able to reduce the impact.

It’s how the impact gets reduced that worried several school board directors and MSAD 58 residents. While no schools or positions can be removed from school district budgets in the first year of consolidation, in proceeding years the new board would be forced into looking at some tough decisions. With current MSAD 9 district towns having a little less than 75 percent of the new school board’s weighted vote, many people are concerned that the cost shift impact on the MSAD 9 towns would be reduced at the expense of the MSAD 58 schools.

“There will be pressure for efficiency,” Clark noted. “I believe that the inevitable result will be moves, pushes and shifts to wring these efficiencies out of the new district.”

Not consolidating puts MSAD 58 at risk of being assessed roughly $130,000 in penalties applied to the state subsidies. Clark said that while substantial, the district lost $550,000 in state subsidies in 2008-2009 alone, and the penalty was certainly survivable.

The board voted in favor of submitting the revised plan to the DOE, for further review. School Board Chair Mike Pond of Strong, Director Tom MacDonald of Eustis, and Director Alan Morse of Phillips, all voted against submitting the plan. Clark noted that now voters would see the plan, unless the state found some new issue with the plan or the two other participants, Highland and Coplin Plantation declined to submit.

“There’s stop signs between now and the vote,” Clark said. That vote would likely happen during the national elections on Nov. 4, when a higher turnout is expected.

The MSAD 58 board then moved on the following question: “Does the school board recommend consolidation?”

Seven directors voted against the issue, signaling their disapproval of the consolidation plan with MSAD 9. Director Sara Woods of Eustis, voted in favor, while Director Judith Dill of Kingfield, abstained, saying she saw both pros and cons in the plan.

Woods urged people to contact board directors or the superintendent if they had questions.

“This will be your personal choice,” she said, “your choice if you want this or not. If you need information or don’t know something, call Quenten or your board member. Call somebody.”

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