Atkinson voters to make a decision on proceeding with SAD 41 withdrawal
ATKINSON — When residents head to the polls on Tuesday, one item they will be voting on is whether the town should withdraw from the Milo-based SAD 41. If the vote is “Yes” then the selectmen would be authorized to form a withdrawal committee and use up to $20,000 from an Atkinson school trust fund for related expenses such as legal fees.
The possibility of withdrawing from SAD 41 was the subject of a public hearing on Oct. 25 at the town office, with several dozen in attendance. Select Chair Mark Kinney said the session was held following the submission of a petition, containing over 40 signatures, to the board several weeks prior.
Kinney said during a vote in August all but seven of 90 citizens attending voted in favor of the community deorganizing becoming part of the county’s unorganized territories and no longer being a municipality. “Part of that plan is to withdraw from the school district, SAD 41,” he said as the deorganization plan has Atkinson students heading west to RSU 68/Foxcroft Academy in Dover-Foxcroft.
“Since then there’s been that other petition that’s come in to withdraw if deorganization does not go through,” Kinney said. He said the Maine Legislature could take a look at Atkinson’s request to deorganize during its winter session. Should the Legislature give its approval then a town vote would take place in late 2017, needing a two-thirds majority favoring deorganizing in order for the plan to pass.
Kinney said if the deorganization plan is not approved in Augusta then the town could still work to withdraw from SAD 41, and such a vote would also need a two-thirds majority in order to be enacted.
“There’s different reasons why people want to withdraw from this school district, one’s financial and the other’s academics,” he said. “It’s going to be less money in RSU 68 for us than what we are committed to in SAD 41.”
The select chair added that Foxcroft Academy offers 47 more courses than the Penquis Valley High School curriculum.
Kinney said Atkinson currently has 31 students in prekindergarten through grade 12 — the smallest enrollment of the four SAD 41 communities — and this year’s costs for all the pupils is $241,000. He said costs per student are $6,500 for elementary and middle school and $10,100 at the high school.
The cost for RSU 68 would be $5,968 per student and Kinney said for 31 pupils the total expenditure would be $185,000. “It is 23.3 percent less to be in RSU 68 compared to where we currently are in 41,” he said, saying state statute enables students who want to remain in SAD 41 to be able to continue with their education in this district.
“At the moment there’s basically no debt, that’s my understanding,” Kinney said, as should Atkinson withdraw from SAD 41 the town would need to negotiate with the district. “If you folks want to do it, now’s the time to withdraw,” he added, saying SAD 41 is looking into a $10 million project to renovate the Penquis Valley School into a pre-kindergarten through grade 12 campus.
The select chair said if the withdrawal process come to fruition, Atkinson would be leaving SAD 41 but the RSU 68 towns would have to make a decision on whether the town would join the district. Kinney said the RSU 68 school board gave its informal OK to the idea of being the “school of guaranteed acceptance” earlier in the month but the directors have not yet taken a formal vote with this item possibly being made at the Nov. 1 meeting.
Withdrawing from SAD 41 and not joining another district would make the town its own school administrative unit (SAU), needing a superintendent and being responsible for other duties. “There’s not really savings as an Atkinson SAU,” Kinney said.
“On Nov. 8 you will be voting on whether you want to proceed with SAD 41 withdrawal or not,” Kinney said. He said should the question pass then the selectmen would send certified letters to both the state and SAD 41 informing of the vote results and specifying the reasons why the town wants to withdraw from the school district.
If the withdrawal procedure progresses then a vote could be taken in November 2017. Kinney said the town should know the fate of the deorganization plan and whether this could be brought before the citizens before then.