STARKS — Residents are already sending in their absentee ballots for the January vote on whether to secede from the school district.

The state education commissioner has given final approval of the town’s plan to withdraw from School Administrative District 59, setting the voting process in motion. The district serving Madison, Athens, Starks and Brighton Plantation will know in less than a month whether it is down one town.

There will be a public hearing at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 29, at the Starks Community Center to discuss seceding. Then referendum voting will take place from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 10, also at the center.

A two-thirds majority is needed by law to secede.

It’s been about a year and a half since Starks first began examining whether to withdraw and join Mt. Blue Regional School District, based in Farmington.

“There’s some cost savings, and there’s some additional educational opportunities there, and I think it’s a very good prospect for the town,” said resident Ernest Hilton, chairman of the withdrawal committee.

Residents seem to agree. In a poll conducted by the town in November 2010, 85 percent of 137 residents favored secession. In December of that year, a survey mailed to residents showed that 58 percent of respondents were strongly supportive; 12 percent were somewhat supportive; 19 percent were neutral; and 11 percent were opposed.

The withdrawal proposal allows Starks students to remain in Madison schools, and continue in Madison until they graduate, if they wish. The year after withdrawal, however, any Starks student entering kindergarten would go to Farmington.

It is anticipated that about 20 of the approximately 70 students from Starks would continue in Madison. The reduction in students, however, would cause SAD 59 to lose up to $400,000.

Though officials from Starks and Mt. Blue have been discussing plans informally, Hilton said Starks can’t officially begin drawing up a reorganization plan with Mt. Blue until after an affirmative Jan. 10 vote.

“It’s a much easier process than the withdrawal process. The only difference to Mt. Blue is they’re going to have to run their buses a little farther in the morning to pick up the Starks kids,” Hilton said. The Mt. Blue school board would also have to adjust its votes to account for Starks.

Mt. Blue Superintendent Mike Cormier said, “For us, there could be some benefits to having their children attend school here.”

The addition would infuse close to $500,000, he said, and Starks students would likely be absorbed without adding additional staff, since students would be spread out over 13 grades.

Claire Andrews, a Mt. Blue school board member from Farmington, said the board is still learning about the details, but it appears Starks would be an asset to the district.

“Until a formal vote is made we can’t really do much,” she said. But, “There have been no great concerns that the people on the board have been talking about.”

Because of its location, it makes sense that Starks would look to Mt. Blue, she said. “Our buses that bus people in our district pass their buses. They overlap. That’s how close they are.”

Robert Pullo, a board member from Wilton, said, “It’s one of those things where it makes sense for them, and it makes sense for us.”

Starks voters would have to accept a reorganization plan with Mt. Blue. And residents in Mt. Blue’s communities of Chesterville, Farmington, Industry, New Sharon, New Vineyard, Temple, Vienna, Weld and Wilton would also vote on whether to let Starks join.

Erin Rhoda — 612-2368

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