Mt. Blue School District teacher Lisa Dalrymple plans to be sifting through piles of paperwork and seeking Department of Homeland Security approval with the hopes of setting up an international exchange program for the 2016-2017 school year.

The Mt. Blue school board last week approved the program that intends to enroll international students with the aim of using their tuition dollars to bring back a world languages program at the elementary level.

“It will be a lot of work, but it should finally bring world languages back,” she said.

The school district includes Chesterville, Farmington, Industry, New Sharon, New Vineyard, Starks, Temple, Vienna, Weld and Wilton.

The proposal will still have to be approved as part of the whole budget by the school board and then approved by the residents in a referendum vote.

School officials are asking for $35,000 over the next two years to get the program started and, if it’s successful, they say it will pay for itself with money left over after the first year international students are enrolled.

“It will also bring diversity to the school and a chance for students to experience other cultures,” said Dalrymple, who is the district’s coordinator for world languages.

For the first years of the program, Dalrymple said she plans to recruit Chinese students, who have been attending high school in the United States at in higher numbers. The program follows suit with other high schools in Maine and throughout the country that have recruited Chinese students to boost their struggling budgets.

Stearns High School in Millinocket made national news three years ago when it sought to recruit 60 Chinese students and ended up with six. Dalrymple said the school conservatively estimated recruiting three students the inaugural year of the program, which would be all it takes to pay for world languages.

When world languages were cut from the elementary school years ago, the goal was to bring back the classes back in the coming school year. However, there was still not enough money to revive the program, so Dalrymple proposed using international students’ tuition dollars to pay for world language classes.

Students would pay about $15,000 for the first year of attendance, $5,500 for room and board and $5,000 as an administration fee for the costs of running the program, bringing the total cost of one year in the program to nearly $26,000.

She said if the school took in three students the first year, the district would make $38,400 after expenses.

Superintendent Tom Ward and Dalrymple both said the proposal has the possibility for a strong return on investment; the program’s profit would pay for the first three years’ expenses, and in later years they anticipate revenue would grow.

The school district has had exchange students before, but the students were participating in other programs not run by the school.

The program’s expenses in the first year would be a stipend for Dalrymple’s time setting up the program, lawyer fees, site visits and other costs such as travel that would come with the process, Ward said. After the program was approved, the school then would spend the next year recruiting.

In past conversations with Chinese exchange students, Dalrymple said she’s heard positive feedback about living in the rural region.

“We have a lot to offer, I think,” she said. “Clean air, blue skies.”

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252 kschroeder@centralmaine.com