Guilford’s SAD 4 and regional high school partners to request CSD governance structure

GUILFORD — Superintendents from three districts seeking to build a regional high school are pursuing a community school district form of governance.

Representatives from school districts in Dexter, Guilford and Milo have been meeting monthly to form a plan to consolidate the three high schools into one regional school to cut down on expenses and to pool resources. Two other attempts — one in the St. John Valley in northernmost Maine and the other in southern Aroostook County — failed and the state diverted the money to central Maine. The state had offered those districts $100 million and $120 million, respectively, toward a school, but Scott Brown from the Maine Department of Education, said there is no fixed amount for the current project.

This month, superintendents met with Portland-based attorney Bill Stockmeyer about taking their request for a community school district, or CSD, to the Legislature in January. The CSD needs special consideration because the Maine Department of Education is no longer approving new CSDs, said Kelly MacFadyen, School Administrative District 4 superintendent.

“Bill Stockmeyer is working on the legalities and the language around that now,” she said during the SAD 4 school board meeting Tuesday, Dec. 14.

The regional high school committee would appoint board members from each participating district to oversee the facility. Each district would have the same number of members, according to MacFadyen’s report.

“We felt it was important for the communities, regardless of their size, to know we all have the same representation on that board and that if there were a question of a tie, that just means … we need to have more discussions and come to some kind of consensus before we move on,” she said.

The regional high school committee last met in mid-November and focused on developing an understanding culture, SAD 4 school board member Thelma Regan said. Some committee members are traveling to Blackstone Valley Regional Vocational Technical High School in Massachusetts to see how the facility there operates. 

School board members also voted to move the district’s winter break to Dec. 20 to give students and staff two full weeks of vacation. It was scheduled to begin Dec. 22.

“This week things have become particularly difficult,” MacFadyen said. “In this building [Piscataquis Community Elementary], we are day to day trying to decide if we’re going to be here for the rest of the week. It’s truly hour by hour.”

The elementary school was down 20 staff members Monday, Dec. 13, and 16 staff members Tuesday, Dec. 14, she said. Some tested positive for COVID-19, while others are in quarantine or had to stay home with their own children.

The two days would not need to be made up later in the year, the superintendent said. The state requires 175 students days and the district has 177 built into its calendar.

MacFadyen also provided an update on COVID-19 in the schools. Piscataquis Community High School is no longer in outbreak status, though the elementary continues to be, she said.

The district has had 73 people test positive for COVID-19 this school year, according to MacFadyen’s report.

Since the last meeting on Nov. 9, the district has seen 12 new cases of COVID-19, which led to 59 people having to quarantine, she said. Ninety-seven close contacts did not have to quarantine because they participate in pooled testing or are vaccinated.

The Winter Wonderland concert for students in fourth through sixth grades, slated for Tuesday, Dec. 14, was canceled due to staff shortages and increasing COVID-19 cases, Piscataquis Community Elementary School Principal Anita Wright said.

“I knew on Friday I had a number of staff out and still had it covered,” she said. “Sunday I knew there were more staff out, still could do it. Monday morning I scrambled. … By the afternoon, we’d lost more students and three more staff members.

“I knew that I couldn’t be orchestrating a rehearsal. I needed to make sure that I had everybody in our classrooms and we could keep school open.”

The students will perform during lunch for the lower grade levels this week. 

Special Education Director Nicki Greene said SAD 4 is looking to hire more educational technicians. The district is willing to work with a person to help them obtain certification if they are not already certified, she said.

“We have had a lot of kids move into the district with special needs this school year, and it has not stopped,” she said. “It has been forever flowing. … There is a serious need.”

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