Local comprehensive high school proposal ranked third on state funding list

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In his official blog shared on the Fort Kent-based Maine School Administrative District 27 website, Superintendent Ben Sirois announced last week that a collaborative of three northern Aroostook County 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 voted unanimously Aug. 14 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.

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 third-ranked 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.

The second-ranked 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.

The state offered up to $200 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 (St. Agatha/Frenchville), 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, with the group narrowed to three finalists. 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. The three superintendents are expected to meet with state Department of Education officials in Augusta to discuss the next steps, including site selection and the construction bidding process.

The State Board of Education’s approval was the final step in developing a priority list, according to Rachel Paling, communications director for the Maine Department of Education.

“All the analysis, review, and scoring work as well as the administrative review process is now complete,” Paling wrote in an email Wednesday. “The next step is for the commissioner to recommend a pilot project or project(s) to be placed on the “Approved Projects List.” That placement would be the formal commitment to initiate the project.

She added that such a recommendation, which would include a timeline for concept approval and the district referendum, is expected to be presented to the State Board of Education as early as September.

Jessica Potila of the St. John Valley Times/Fiddlehead Focus contributed to this story.

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