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Regionalization consultant: local control of elementary schools remains ‘essential’

FORT KENT, Maine — Members of the Upper St. John Valley collaborative of the Madawaska School Department and Maine School Administrative Districts 27 and 33 met Monday evening to discuss the latest developments regarding their regionalization plan and possible new high school.

It is “essential” that each district’s elementary school remains under local control under the regionalization effort, an education consultant and former superintendent told those gathered for Monday’s meeting.

“That’s a guiding principle of this process,” said Gerald Clockedile, who is working with the three districts on the regionalization plans.

Even as broad administrative functions are targeted for streamlining, school board members, superintendents and parents seek to retain local oversight of the educational priorities for pre-kindergarten through 8th grade students, who would remain in elementary schools in their respective districts.

While representatives from all three school departments have expressed a desire to retain local control, members of the SAD 33 board have held off formally signing onto the strategic plan. Madawaska and SAD 27 board members have voted to adopt the plan.

Adoption of the strategic plan is on the agenda for SAD 33’s Oct. 9 school board meeting.

SAD 33 Superintendent Lisa Bernier commented following the meeting that her questions about local oversight of the lower grades were addressed Monday.

“More importantly, it helped alleviate the concerns the SAD 33 Board had,” Bernier said in an email, Wednesday.

Clockedile pointed out on Monday that parameters are wide open at this point regarding how the local districts may structure the governance of their local elementary schools and the regional administrative office. State officials, he said, are interested in seeing collaborations that address administrative and financial efficiencies, rather than dictating the details of structure.

Madawaska Superintendent Gisele Dionne, who has attended, with other local school officials, multiple meetings with Maine Department of Education staff, reiterated Clockedile’s point.

“We have been told to think outside of the box,” she said.

Clockedile also updated the group on the proposal to build a new high school. The goal of consolidating the high schools from Fort Kent, Madawaska and St. Agatha into one facility is part of the strategic plan and the group was awarded a grant to develop that planning and construction proposal.

The three superintendents and Clockedile are now working on that proposal, which is due in December. The state likely only would approve construction funds for a selected project in the spring or early summer of 2018, according to Clockedile.

“The state will fully fund what they approve,” he said. That could mean scaling back the prefered size of auditoriums and gymnasiums or otherwise trimming “extras.”

Local debt for the new school could be zero dollars, if the project stays within state guidelines. Otherwise, Clockedile said, the partnering communities would have to fund the difference in cost.

The state is seeking to fund innovative schools that address the needs of learners in grades nine through 16, and include career and technology centers and nearby institutions of higher education, he said.

SAD 27 Superintendent Ben Sirois expressed confidence that the St. John Valley collaborative has a good chance to be selected for construction funds, as the existing strategic plan includes those partnerships the state seeks.

“We have been working on this for a year,” he said. “That puts us in a unique place when it comes to looking ahead.”
Clockedile said no other group competing for the same state funds has a strategic plan.

Potential sites for a new school have not been decided or even discussed at this point, according to members of the group. The project, which Clockedile said was at least three to five years away, would be a “more comprehensive educational center than what is being done now” in the Valley.

Each of the three local school boards is expected to review the construction grant application prior to its submission in December.

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