After many failed attempts, school districts based in Bingham, Anson and Madison are beginning discussions again about consolidating.

If they submit a formal letter of intent to the Maine Department of Education, devise a plan to form an alternative organizational structure and present the plan for voter approval, it would be the fourth attempt by School Administrative District 74 to join with another district. SAD 74 serves Anson, Embden, Solon and New Portland.

It would be the third attempt for both SAD 59 and 13. SAD 59 serves Madison, Athens, Starks and Brighton Plantation. SAD 13 serves Bingham and Moscow.

SAD 13 school board members started the process Tuesday when they directed their superintendent, Virginia Rebar, to contact the superintendents of the other districts to see if they want to form an alternative organizational structure, or AOS.

SAD 13 school board members started the process Tuesday when they directed their superintendent, Virginia Rebar, to contact the superintendents of the other districts to see if they want to form an alternative organizational structure, or AOS.

An AOS would allow the original school districts to retain their own boards and budgets, but each would send school board representatives to serve on an AOS board. That board would oversee a merged office’s duties and budget.

SAD 13 and 59 are currently out of compliance with reorganization law because their communities have turned down past merger proposals. SAD 13 receives $42,000 less in state aid each year as a penalty and SAD 59 receives about $200,000 less.

SAD 74 is exempt from a penalty this year because it has always voted in favor of joining with other districts. It must remain open, however, to other districts that want to join with it, or else it could be assessed a $160,000 yearly penalty.

“SAD 74 is obligated under our stand-alone status to respond in the affirmative to any neighboring district who offers us a letter of intent,” Superintendent Ken Coville said.

So, after learning of SAD 13’s interest, SAD 74 school board members decided Wednesday night “that we would be open to any request to join in a filing of a letter of intent,” Coville said.

“This is not a new communication. This is not a new position. The SAD 74 board has communicated in the past inquiries to both those school districts in regard to consolidation and are simply awaiting a formal communication of interest from either one of them,” Coville said. SAD 59 Superintendent Lyford Beverage indicated the same willingness to work with SAD 13 and 74, even though last October the SAD 13 board voted to halt AOS talks indefinitely with SAD 59.

“I think there’s a very sincere interest on the part of the SAD 59 board to work out some sort of consolidation effort with SAD 13. There was last year, and I don’t think that’s changed,” Beverage said.

In the past, representatives of SAD 13, which has about a quarter of the students as SAD 59, have been worried about losing influence on a larger board and having a central office in Madison.

However, Beverage said, “This board doesn’t want to be in that position, of not having some control over their own destiny, and they fully understand there are other boards that feel the same way.”

SAD 59 board members will discuss the issue at their meeting at 7 p.m., Monday, at the administrative office on Weston Avenue in Madison.

SAD 13 board members’ discussions this week revealed a variety of opinions on which districts to approach.

Chairman Brian Malloy, of Bingham, first suggested forming an AOS with SAD 74 and SAD 58, which serves Kingfield, Phillips, Avon, Eustis and Strong. SAD 58 residents in March torpedoed a merger plan with SAD 74.

Moscow board member Pauline Lagasse suggested just going with SAD 74, in Anson.

But Bingham board member Bonnie Atwood said they should consider SAD 59, in Madison.

“They approached us,” she said. “It would be a slap in the face, to me, if we didn’t go back to them.”

Joey McKenzie, a Bingham board member, said SAD 59 may have approached them, but do they really want to join?

“I don’t believe that. Not at all,” he said, adding he suspects the $200,000 penalty is a significant motivator.

Erin Rhoda — 474-9534

 

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