Editor’s Note: This article has been updated, and now includes the unofficial vote tallies from every community.
Taking cues from their local school boards, residents in most of Franklin County voted down a school reorganization plan which would have created a new school district stretching effectively from the Canadian border to Bethel.
Current totals put the final vote at 5,047 voting in favor of consolidation, with 7,215 voting in opposition. MSAD 58 residents voted against consolidation, with 641 in favor and 1,703 opposed, approaching a 3 to 1 margin. MSAD 9 voters also were opposed to the reorganization, with 4,372 in favor and 5,439 in opposition. These results account for the unofficial vote counts from every participating town.
The Western Mountains Regional School District concept was created by a Regional Planning Committee made up of members of the five MSAD 58 communities: Avon, Eustis, Kingfield, Phillips, and Strong; the nine MSAD 9 communities: Chesterville, Farmington, Industry, New Sharon, New Vineyard, Temple, Vienna, Weld and Wilton; as well as Highland and Coplin Plantation.
The new district would have been governed by a 25-director school board and administered the education of 3,200 students in 10 schools. Had the plan passed in both MSAD 58 and MSAD 9, new directors would have been voted in throughout the spring in preparation for a July 2009 reorganization.
School consolidation plan failed to gain approval in the vast majority of the proposed district. This follows the recommendations made by the two school boards, both of which approved votes in favor of not passing the reorganization plan by wide margins.
So far every community in MSAD 9 and MSAD 58 has voted the plan down, except for Vienna and Chesterville which both narrowly approved it. For the plan to go into effect, the majority of both MSAD 9 and MSAD 58 voters would have had to approve the plan.
Coplin Plantation rejected the plan, by a vote of 11 in favor and 56 opposed. Highland Plantation approved the plan, by a vote of 23 to 17. The votes by Coplin and Highland Plantation, while affecting the communities themselves, do not have a bearing on whether a new district is created.
MSAD 9 had already planned for this contingency. The school board unanimously approved giving Superintendent Michael Cormier the authorization to submit a letter to the Department of Education upon the defeat of the plan. That letter would announce MSAD 9’s desire to form a regional school unit consisting of only its current nine member towns.
“I emailed the letter over this morning,” Cormier confirmed. “That’s the direction we’re moving in now.”
Even if MSAD 9 were to successfully form a stand-alone district, it might still need to show 5 percent cost reductions in the transportation, facility and special education areas of its budget.
“We already made many of these reductions in the last three years,” he said.
The alternate plan would require the approval of DOE Commissioner Susan Gendron as MSAD 9 currently has less that 2,500 students in attendance. However, the district is close to that number with a little more than 2,400. Also, directors are hopeful that the rejection of a fully-developed plan by the voters may be taken as a sign of the “due diligence” that the DOE has mandated be a prerequisite to forming an alternative organization.
MSAD 58’s next move is slightly less clear. Superintendent Quenten Clark said that the school board would meet next week and decide how to proceed.
Possible options that have been previously mentioned include forming a school union-esque arrangement with either the Rangeley-area School Union 37, Carrabassett Valley, MSAD 74, or some other combination. Coplin and Highland plantations both have no schools of their own, and instead tuition children to MSAD 58, likely following that district’s lead in a consolidation scenario.
School districts not in some sort of a new arrangement, be it a Regional School Unit or Alternate Organizational Structure, will be assessed a penalty, according to the DOE. The penalty for MSAD 9 would be more than $400,000 lost in state subsidies, while the penalty for MSAD 58 would be more than $100,000 lost in state subsidies.
Unofficial data for consolidation plan:
The question appeared on the ballot in the following format: Do you favor approving the school administrative reorganization plan prepared by the Western Mountains School District Reorganization Planning Committee to reorganize Maine School Administrative District No. 9, Maine School Administrative District No. 58 and the school departments of Coplin Plantation and Highland Plantation into a regional school unit, with an effective date of July 1, 2009?
Total MSAD 9 vote:
Total MSAD 58 vote:
Total Coplin Plantation vote:
Total Highland Plantation vote:
Breakdown by school district towns:
Town of Avon
Town of Eustis
Town of Kingfield
Town of Phillips
Town of Strong
Town of Chesterville
Town of Farmington
Town of Industry
Town of New Sharon
Town of New Vineyard
Town of Temple
Town of Vienna
Town of Weld
Town of Wilton