St. John Valley

Sirois urges SAUs to merge into one regional school unit, discuss budget

FRENCHVILLE, Maine — The Valley Unified Board of Directors convened on Wednesday to discuss the process to merge the three school administrative units into one regional school unit as well as to review the proposed budget. 

 

Joined under the umbrella of the Valley Unified Educational Service Center, the three school administrative units of MSADs 27 and 33 and the Madawaska School Department have worked together to address the declining enrollment and rising costs in education.  

In 2018, the state authorized funding the Valley Unified effort up to $100 million for a new St. John Valley educational facility that would replace the high schools in Fort Kent, Frenchville and Madawaska, and serve students from Grand Isle to Allagash.

Under the advice of Ben Sirois, superintendent of Valley Unified, the board resolved to allow Sirois to recommend the three SAUs send a letter of intent to the department of education to merge into one RSU to “resolve some of the concerns that the local communities have.” 

None of the board members opposed Sirois’ suggestion to write the letter of intent to the three respective boards. 

The board ended the meeting by reviewing the budget for the regional service center. 

With only five employees on salary employed by Valley Unified — which includes the superintendent, assistant superintendent, community outreach, food service and nutritional health and director of finance — the cost for salaries is $410,913. 

The proposed total budget for Valley Unified is $694,553. 

While the anticipated state contribution is $123,418, the local communities will need to split the remaining cost of $571,135. 

Cost sharing between the three communities was decided upon based on valuation and attendance and broken down as follows: SAD 27 will fund 51 percent; SAD 33 will fund 15.1 percent; and Madawaska School Department will fund 33.9 percent. 

Therefore, with the proposed budget, SAD 27 will fund $291,450; MSAD33 will fund $86,327; and the Madawaska School Department will fund $193,358. 

To help keep the process moving for the local communities to get their budgets set as well, the  Valley Unified budget needs to be approved by March 15 otherwise the board will need to hold an emergency meeting to set the budget. 

After the first vote regarding the budget failed, Chairman Toby Jendreau suggested they “take a break” and he and the budget-opposing board members left the meeting room. During the break, board members told Channel 4 and Jason Boucher’s crew to cut the live feed of the video that is aired for the public.

Shortly after, the board reconvened.

“Our [SAU] group, as you know, went out and chatted,” Jendreau said. “We’ve become really gun-shy around making decisions about our whole [SAU] board. We had the chance to chat a little bit, but in the future we ask that Ben and Lucie [the finance director] give us a little peek for our own [SAU] board.” 

By the end of the meeting, the board had reconsidered the budget and it was unanimously passed.

“Those shared services nine out of 10 times work to our benefit,” Sirois said. “For the most part our collaborative work has really unified our three districts to act as one.”

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