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Three Valley school systems first in line for state-funded regional high school

FORT KENT, Maine — In his official blog shared on the Maine School Administrative District 27 website, Superintendent Ben Sirois announced Tuesday that a collaborative of three St. John Valley school districts is first in line to receive money from the state to build a new regional high school.

The Maine State Board of Education on Tuesday voted unanimously to approve Maine Department of Education Commissioner Robert Hasson’s  Integrated, Consolidated 9-16 Educational Facility Proposed Priority List, with the Valley Unified proposal remaining at the top.

The state offered up to $100 million to the regional winner of the statewide competition to build a pilot consolidated school that would combine high schools, integrate technical and career training, and include post-secondary education aspects.

The intent of the competition was to encourage neighboring school districts with declining enrollments and rising expenses to work together to combine resources and save costs.

The Madawaska School Department, SAD 27 and SAD 33, joined forces as Valley Unified Regional Service Center to propose a Valley Unified Regional High School that would replace existing high schools in Fort Kent, St. Agatha and Madawaska. The proposal includes a Career and Technical Education Center and a higher education presence on site.

The Valley Unified proposal beat out seven other regional groups who applied.

Upon final approval, the school will be funded entirely by the state.

Final approval by the State Board of Education for funding and construction will now be contingent on the three local school systems finding a suitable site for the new school and getting voters from each area to approve the project.

Madawaska Superintendent Giselle Dionne, SAD33 Superintendent Lisa Bernier and Sirois indicated their enthusiasm for the board’s decision in a press release issued Wednesday.

The three noted that enrollment in the combined districts had dropped by more than 1,000 students, or 42 percent, over a 20-year period between 1997 and 2017. They also indicated that the region is expected to lose another 200 students in the next five years with nearly 50 school staffers expected to reach retirement age in the next decade.

“These numbers reflect the good sense of sharing our human resources and blending our fiscal and even facilities resources to best serve and address the needs of our learners,” the superintendents jointly stated in the press release.

The three superintendents are expected to meet with state Department of Education officials in Augusta on Aug. 16 to discuss the next steps, including site selection and the construction bidding process.

Two other regional proposals that also made the approved priority list must now wait to see if the state will find additional monies to fund their projects.

The Valley Regional Service Center was proposed by a Southern Aroostook area collaborative out of the Houlton (RSU 29), Hodgdon (SAD 70), Danforth (SAD 14) and Dyer Brook (RSU 50) areas, and the Region Two School of Applied Technology.

Another regional proposal was submitted by officials from SAD 46 (Dexter area), SAD 4 (Guilford area), SAD 41 (Milo area) RSU 82/MSAD 12 in the Jackman area, the Greenville School District, and the Dexter-based Tri-County Technical Center.

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