SAD 41 and Atkinson to commence withdrawal negotiations

MILO — Last month Atkinson residents voted, 151-34, to file a petition to withdraw from SAD 41, with this process to be done by a committee through negotiations with the school district.
“Mr. (Superintendent Michael) Wright got notification that meeting will take place and that will be on the 14th,” Assistant Superintendent Meredith Higgins said about the initial gathering between Atkinson and SAD 41 during a Dec. 7 school board meeting. The session will take place at the Penquis Valley School at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.
Board Chair Arthur Herbest said SAD 41 will have its own representatives, made up of two board members from Brownville, LaGrange and Milo, work with the group from Atkinson,
“This committee will be negotiating on behalf of the board with the Atkinson withdrawal committee,” Higgins said.
“We are just in the initial stages of it and there will be more of it,” Herbest said.
Higgins said the town of Burlington withdrew from the Howland-based SAD 31 and the process took nearly two years. “There were some disagreements that took some time to work through,” she said.
Atkinson is looking to deorganize — the Maine Legislature is scheduled to discuss the matter during its winter session — and as an unorganized territory students would attend RSU 68/Foxcroft Academy in Dover-Foxcroft.
A separate petition to withdraw from SAD 41 if deorganization does not go through was presented to the Atkinson selectmen and then acted upon at the Nov. 8 referendum. Under this plan Atkinson pupils — the current year’s count is 31 — would head west to RSU 68/Foxcroft Academy. As a town, Atkinson could potentially become a member community of RSU 68, which serves pre-K to grade 8 and tuitions its high-schoolers to Foxcroft Academy.
In other business, Higgins said Architect Stephen Blatt recently toured and assessed the Brownville and Milo elementary schools. “What we expect from him is new information back, and hopefully have him at our Jan. 11 meeting,” she said — next month the school board will meet on the second Wednesday instead of the first Wednesday.
SAD 41 officials have been working with Blatt to research a potential $10 million project that would convert the Penquis Valley complex into a pre-kindergarten through grade 12 facility, after looking into the costs to renovate the existing building along with the two elementary schools. Regardless of whether and/or when the project goes through, improvements will still be needed in the near future at the elementary facilities if the Penquis Valley project is delayed to await potential state funding.
“At our next meeting we are going to try to prioritize so we can put it in the budget,” Herbest said. “I think we can all agree that not doing anything is wrong.”
The identified needs in Milo — which were discussed by the capital improvement committee during a meeting on Nov. 11 — concern drainage in the parking lot, ventilation being limited in some areas of the building, replacing carpets and bathrooms being located away from classrooms. Principal Tina Dumond said Blatt remarked that the school kitchen was also outdated.
The needs in Brownville are new carpeting and the replacement of the boiler.
“We’re at the preliminary stages of what we’re going to do, when we’re going to do it and how much it’s going to cost,” Herbest said.
Head of Building and Grounds Donnie Richards was asked about a timeline for school improvements, and he said waiting until the spring to schedule work for the summer would likely be too late on contractors’ schedules. He said the ideal time for setting up summer construction is during the fall.
Higgins said the various funding options for the pre-K to grade 12 project are still being examined. SAD 41 has been approved for a $2.1 million quality zone academy bond with the funding for building renovations including a 0 percent interest rate as the principal is paid back in 25 years.
“The revolving renovation fund is a better deal but if we could do both that would give us more options,” Higgins said. Under Maine’s school revolving renovation fund up to 70 percent of qualifying construction costs are covered by the state, and SAD 41 could learn if the district is awarded these kind of monies in February.

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