The state education commissioner has granted conditional approval for Starks to secede from its school district, which also serves Madison, Athens and Brighton Plantation.

“The conditional approval was without a doubt the largest step that needs to be taken between SAD 59 and Starks. It means the two governing bodies … were able to reach an agreement we think we can both live with,” said Todd LeRoy, superintendent of School Administrative District 59.

The conditional approval given Nov. 8 is one of several steps left in the withdrawal process. The next legal requirement involves residents of all the communities in the district.

The Starks withdrawal committee and school board are inviting residents to a public hearing at 6 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 30, at the district office on Weston Avenue.

There, residents of Madison, Athens, Starks and Brighton Plantation can share concerns and provide suggestions, some of which could be incorporated into the final withdrawal agreement.

The negotiated agreement, however, has been in the works for months and reviewed by attorneys. It follows the format required by Maine law, Ernest Hilton, chairman of the Starks withdrawal committee, said on Tuesday.

“This has been really thoroughly vetted,” he said.

Even though Starks’ withdrawal would have a negative financial impact on the district, LeRoy said he wanted to work with Starks officials to come up with the best agreement for both sides.

“It will still be a fairly large impact. We’re anticipating several hundred thousand (dollars) as far as a loss right off the bat because of this arrangement,” he said. But, “If Starks was determined that they wanted to leave the district, we needed to work with them and make it happen in a way that was as amicable as humanly possible.”

Because of the anticipated financial reduction, the district is examining whether to cut positions, LeRoy said, adding he hopes the cuts would be made through attrition. He also said he doesn’t anticipate major cuts to programs.

Starks’ plan to secede from SAD 59 and join Farmington’s Mt. Blue Regional School District, otherwise called SAD 9, began in August 2010 at a special town meeting.

Residents then and since have expressed interest in joining a district that has a greater number of courses available, including advanced placement classes, Hilton said. Also, Starks estimates it can save about $90,000 a year by joining Mt. Blue.

Travel would not change drastically, as Starks is about halfway between Madison and Farmington schools.

Still, some Starks parents want their children to continue in Madison schools, Hilton said, and the negotiated agreement allows for that to happen.

“If parents want their child to continue to go here, they have that right. That, to me, was the key point,” LeRoy said.

About 20 of the approximately 70 Starks students are anticipated to remain in Madison next fall. The following year, though, any student entering kindergarten would go to Farmington.

Another issue addressed in the agreement is bus transportation. Madison officials have agreed to pick up the 20 students at the Starks Community Center and take them to school. The Madison bus would also pick up students who live on the community center route but not make additional stops in Starks.

Hilton also said Starks parents would have to eventually make their own travel arrangements as more of the town’s children graduate. It wouldn’t make financial sense for Madison to pick up a handful of students

Though SAD 59 would no longer receive a local contribution from Starks, it would receive state subsidy. Having a gradual decrease in students also would save the district from a drastic funding cut.

“We were willing to take a little bit less in student aid for these kids to allow them to stay,” LeRoy said. “If we lost all those kids we wouldn’t get any funding at all.”

The agreement proposes that Starks leave the Madison district on June 30. Then, all of Starks’ tax contributions would be made to Mt. Blue.

“It’s one of those things where the number of students coming from Starks really would represent a pretty small percentage of (Mt. Blue’s) students, but the amount of money that comes in from Starks would be significant enough that it would help them with continuing to augment their budget,” Hilton said.

After the Nov. 30 hearing in Madison, the agreement will return to Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen for his final approval. Starks will subsequently hold a public hearing, anticipated for the end of December or beginning of January.

Then, likely in mid-January, Starks residents will vote at the polls whether to secede. A two-thirds majority approval is required to withdraw.

The Starks withdrawal committee has already been informally discussing plans with Mt. Blue officials, Hilton said. But if Starks votes to withdraw, a group composed of Starks and Mt. Blue representatives would devise an agreement for Starks to meld into Mt. Blue. It would require voter approval at the polls in each Mt. Blue community and Starks.

The communities in the Mt. Blue district are Chesterville, Farmington, Industry, New Sharon, New Vineyard, Temple, Vienna, Weld and Wilton.

Erin Rhoda — 612-2368

[email protected]


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