Funding sought for regional comprehensive high school planning

MILO — Last year representatives from SAD 41, SAD 4 of Guilford, the Dexter-based SAD 46, and RSU 64 of Corinth met with the Maine Department of Education on the proposed regional comprehensive high school project. The local districts were told they needed to cover the costs of an engineering study and other planning efforts before receiving $100 million in state funding to build the project. 

No districts are locked in as public votes on formally joining will be taken in the future if the project progresses.

“Even though I claimed the regional high school was on life support, we’ve had a couple of meetings,” SAD 41 Superintendent Michael Wright said during a school board meeting at the Penquis Valley School on March 9. Wright said he and other superintendents discussed looking to see if other funding sources are available for the study.

He mentioned a ballpark figure of $800,000 for these efforts, which include hiring an architect and the site selection process. This total could be split four ways among school units. 

Wright mentioned how a half decade ago SAD 46 headed up an application between itself and SAD 4 for a $100 million first-of-its-kind secondary institution integrated with a career and technical school along with the University of Maine System and the Maine Community College System, and it would support industry training programs. 

At first projects based in the Madawaska and Houlton areas ranked higher. 

“Ultimately it died because they couldn’t decide on where to put the building,” he said, with the local project rising to the top of funding recipients. Later on in the process SAD 41 joined in a non-binding agreement and then RSU 64. 

“It could be because it’s a difficult concept for rural Maine,” the superintendent said. He said since the beginning he has mentioned that if the project is in one’s own backyard then it is much more favorable than needing to transport all students a great distance every day.

“It’s not just coming as far as Milo, it’s LaGrange as well,” Wright said about the district’s eastern community. He said an open field on Route 7 several miles south of downtown Dover-Foxcroft is the geographic center of the four school districts.

“Even if it’s in Dover it’s a challenge, that’s the problem with the concept in rural Maine,” the superintendent said. “Where are you going to put it where it’s accessible for four districts?”

Wright said $200,000 is not a small sum of money to ask taxpayers for in addition to the regular budget, and even with a completed study there is no guarantee the project would move forward. “To get the project back up and running, right now no one’s come up with an answer to that,” he said, mentioning a potential appeal to Gov. Janet Mills could be something with the study costs coming out of the $100 million.

“My own feeling was the DOE changed priorities,” he said. “I don’t see it going anywhere but at least there’s an ember there.”

In other business, Wright said the next budget meeting would be on March 21 with administrators presenting on their schools. The principals would mention staffing numbers, ideas for next year, and more. 

Wright said the budget committee would also meet with Transportation Director Jeanne Murphy to go over proposed expenditures for this portion of the 2023-24 budget.

Milo Elementary Principal Stephanie Hurd said the school received $500 for participating in the 2023 WinterKids Winter Games. “That will go toward new sleds for our kids, they are beat up and get used quite often,” she said.

Earlier this season Milo Elementary represented Piscataquis County in the statewide event as students took part in activities to get active and outside and compete for prize money. The Winter Games is a four-week series of challenges in outdoor physical activity, nutrition, family engagement, and winter carnival.

Several weeks before the first of practices, spring sports coaches were appointed. DJ Martin will be the Penquis Valley High School baseball head coach and Hazen Conlogue will lead the softball team. Sasha Bladen will serve as track and field head coach and Josh Martin will be the assistant.

For the middle school, the head baseball coach is Dan Fleming and Chelsea Richards is head softball coach.

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