Officials examining idea of combined high school to serve much of region

GUILFORD — School officials are considering a combined comprehensive high school that would serve SAD 4 and SAD 46, as well as some other communities in the region.
Members of the SAD 4 facilities committee met with their counterparts from SAD 46 in Dexter at the Tri-County Technical Center (TCTC) earlier this month to discuss the concept. During a Dec. 13 meeting of the SAD 4 school board at Piscataquis Community Secondary School, facilities committee member Niki Fortier said the preliminary concept of a combined comprehensive high school between the two districts, as well as some other communities in the region, was examined.
SAD 4 is made up of the six member towns of Abbot, Cambridge, Guilford, Parkman, Sangerville and Wellington, and the four SAD 46 communities are Dexter, Exeter, Garland and Ripley.
Fortier said both SAD 4 and 46 are coping with declining enrollments and budgetary concerns. She said the neighboring school units are each among a half dozen districts sending students to TCTC but there is a need for more vocational programs and the center in Dexter has space limitations.
“There is no plan, we are just starting the conversation to see what direction we want to go in,” Fortier said. She said the initial discussion included the idea of a comprehensive high school with all the secondary academic and vocational and higher education offerings housed under one roof. Fortier said TCTC Director Dr. Patrick O’Neil has led a comprehensive high school in Massachusetts.
She said Dr. O’Neil and SAD 46 board member Doug Thomas, a former state legislator, have had conversations with Gov. Paul LePage and department of education officials about school construction monies and the possibility of consolidation projects having a greater chance to be funded in the application process.
“It’s hard to say what could happen,” Fortier said, saying different communities from across the region — including some towns that are currently members of other school districts — have expressed interest in the comprehensive high school concept.
“All of these towns would still have their elementary schools, this is just a high school,” board member James Bell said. He said local school boards and administrators would still be needed for these facilities.
“There is a lot of moving parts to it and I think if there is a discussion there would still be moving parts,” she said. “I think it’s going to be ever changing.”
“One of the big questions was what will it do to taxes in the towns,?” Fortier said, as the SAD 4 and 46 facility committees and representatives from towns outside the two districts will meet again on Jan. 26 — place and time to be determined.
Board member Corey Hill said the joint facilities meeting served as brainstorming session and the SAD 4 directors should see if they would like to pursue the comprehensive high school idea. An informal vote by a show of shows indicated such.
“As a board member I fully support looking into this further with declining enrollment and budgets and it would be good for kids,” Hill said. He added that a new consolidated high school could also benefit taxpayers.
In other business, Bell gave a report on the finance committee’s meeting from the week before. “Basically we are sitting right around where we should be,” he said about the approximate $6.88 million 2016-17 fiscal year spending plan.
The current year’s budget was passed on the fourth referendum and Bell reported that the committee looked at ways to better reach citizens. One suggestion was to hold informational meetings in the various SAD 4 towns, including at senior citizen complexes in the morning to answer questions for these residents directly.
The finance committee report said board members should be tighter on talking points and be clear on how things are being presented. The documents also said a budget schedule would go home along with a monthly newsletter for Piscataquis Community Elementary School parents.
These directors are scheduled to meet next on Jan. 3 and one item to be discussed is bringing the central office back to campus and moving costs vs. continuing to pay to rent following the end of the current lease. Superintendent Ann Kirkpatrick and other district staff work in a space at the former Guilford Primary School that SAD 4 rents from the town of Guilford.
The current budget included the creation of an assistant principal/activities director, with long-time teacher and coach Joe Gallant being hired for the position.
Gallant has been spending about three days a week at the elementary school and the other two days at the secondary school during his first few weeks on the job.
“He’s worked really well with the students,” Kirkpatrick said. She said that while Gallant had taught and coached at PCSS, he already knew some of the elementary students through his time as the Guilford Summer Rec director.
“He’s out and about and he’s everywhere, doing everything,” PCES Principal Anita Wright said about Gallant’s start.

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