Fort Kent Town Council has second thoughts about proposed regional school
FORT KENT, Maine — After hearing from members of the public at a meeting regarding a proposed regional school in the area on Monday, Dec. 9, the Fort Kent Town Council is now having second thoughts about the project.
The council took no official action on the matter of the proposed school, which has become a source of controversy and conflict in the St. John Valley since 2018, when the Maine Department of Education tentatively agreed to provide up to $100 million to help build the school.
The proposed facility would serve students in grades 7-12 from SAD 27, SAD 33 and Madawaska School Department. The three school administrative units have joined forces under the umbrella of the Valley Unified Education Service Center.
Monday’s meeting discussion reflected concerns by community members and councilors about the future of the greater Fort Kent community should the proposed school pass a referendum vote and become a reality.
A site selection committee representing the three school administrative units recommended a parcel in Frenchville for the proposed school, passing on a possible location in Fort Kent. Through an extensive process, the committee had narrowed the field of potential sites from more than 40 down to those final two.
Community member Bob Michaud spoke during the public participation segment of Monday’s meeting.
“In the end, you guys are gonna bear the burden of writing out tax bills for people in this community,” Michaud said. “The initial agreement is skewed completely toward [SAD] 33, St. Agatha and Frenchville; we have no say in what is gonna happen.”
Michaud said SAD 27 voters would provide approximately two-thirds of the funding for the regional school, yet would have one-third of the vote on the Valley Unified board.
“When you guys get a bill from the school you send it to the taxpayers and you get the brunt of the static if the taxes go up,” he added. “There’s gonna be a definite tax increase to the communities for just the maintenance, the new teachers, the upkeep the heat, the electricity — you can name it, there will be [increased taxes].”
Council chair Dr. John Bouchard suspended his chairman’s hat to speak as a member of the public.
“Initially when it was first proposed, it seemed like it was a good idea as a way of being able to increase the student population in the school and to be able to maintain programs and offer different choices as opposed to just doing the basics,” Bouchard said.
He said SAD 27 had close to 60 percent of the student population.
“It seemed that when you looked at it objectively, you would end up with a decision that it made sense to have the school located where the student population was centered,” Bouchard said.
“We’re going to have a minimal vote and majority debt and that doesn’t seem very fair. Our future is going to be decided by others and when that happens I don’t think that is in the best interest of the community,” said Bouchard.
He referenced the debate and discord among the affected communities regarding the site selection for the school, stating that some site selection committee members “were somewhat bullying the whole group.”
“So it’s my personal opinion that I don’t support moving ahead with this and I’m not in favor of SAD 27 going forward with the Valley Unified proposal of the school in Frenchville for those reasons.”
Council member Carroll Theriault, a former police chief in Madawaska, shared in Bouchard’s opinion.
“And I’ll speak up to that. I feel the same way,” Theriault said.
Bouchard added he holds no animosity for the site selection committee or members of the Valley Unified board.
“Regardless of the position that individuals may have, people are trying to do for the best of the community and we must not lose sight of that even if we don’t agree with their positions,” he said.
“People are trying to do what is best for the community and collectively with our different opinions, hopefully we will get to the point where we have the best solution,” Bouchard said.
To view the meeting, visit WFKTV Channel 4 on Facebook.